• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

The childs inability to interpret the adult world is often central to the presentation of childhood in adult literature. Compare the presentation of childhood in Spies and Ato

Extracts from this document...


"The child's inability to interpret the adult world is often central to the presentation of childhood in adult literature." Compare the presentation of childhood in 'Spies' and 'Atonement', considering to what extent you feel this comment is applicable to these texts. As is frequently the case with novels written for adults with children as the main protagonists, the presentation of childhood emphasises the innocence of those at a young and often tender age. When the real world is like a dream, everyday activities are play and adults are a separate species with baffling social conventions, a child will often try to understand grown up aspects of life, but will make genuine misunderstandings instead. Many writers look back on their youth with fondness and use these misunderstandings for either comic intent, such as in Frayn's Spies, or for life-altering tragedy in McEwan's Atonement. In these two novels, as well as the prominence of childhood and memories being recalled as an adult, there is also the historical context to be considered in how this affects the presentation of childhood. Both novels are set during the Second World War. Life in Britain in the 1930s and 40s was an era of transition for society, during which the rise of the urban working class had led to significant changes in politics. Because of the war and the sudden absence of huge amounts of the population's men, families as units were changing - more women were working at the same time as being mothers. ...read more.


Barbara's character symbolised by her blue bobble purse, both intrigues and unsettles Stephen. This is shown in Chapter 5 when she intrudes into the hideout in the bushes, "smiling her big mocking smile, making herself entirely at home." p96. Stephen is outraged by her very presence and goes off on a ranting description - "There's something girlishly self-satisfied about the bobbliness of the leather and the shininess of the popper that offends me almost as much as her intrusion." Unable to process his real feelings, he blames objects for his bad moods. He rejects anything feminine, which is a classic trait for young boys unable to understand 'girlhood'. The naivety of childhood is captured in 'Spies' because there are so many misunderstandings on Stephen and Keith's part about what is really going on in the Close and who is potentially a spy. The narrator frequently asks rhetorical questions about how much the child knew, and whether he should have noticed any inconsistencies in the stories he actively believed at the time. 'Atonement 'is similar to 'Spies' in that it has a child protagonist, the precocious and intelligent Briony, but she is in contrast to the introverted and paranoid Stephen. Both Briony and Stephen make assumptions about the adults around them. The narrative structure of 'Atonement' is different to Spies in that it has the added post-modern twist of a narrator who takes a writer's liberty to change what really happened. ...read more.


It was promotion." Briony longs to be more grown up and thinks that she has knowledge of the adult world. But her excited girlishness and tendency to over exaggerate prevents her from ever being convincing. Briony teeters at the brink of adolescence, just as Lola "longed to throw off the last restrains of childhood." In reading 'Atonement' we see the child of 1935 - the scene of the 'crime' - through the eyes and pen of the adult of the 1999 coda. At the beginning of chapter 13 it says with the insight and irony of the adult, "Within half an hour Briony would commit her crime." The novel includes aspects of the coming of age genre, or 'Bildungsroman'. The story of Briony's individual growth and development takes place in the context of wartime and the certain kind of romanticism that often comes with stories of WW2 childhood (the mixture of awareness and innocence, with the innocence being corrupted by the war and devastation going on around them). If the child's inability to interpret the adults around them is central to the presentation of childhood in adult novels, then it is realistic to say that both 'Spies' and 'Atonement' use the full resources of an adult mentality remembering her/himself. They are both adult narrative voices reflecting 'atmosphere of innocence oppressed by knowledge'. Stephen and Briony are too young to process the adult world, so they have their own interpretations, and these lead to consequences that affect the outcome of the stories. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Other Criticism & Comparison section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Other Criticism & Comparison essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    Innocence and Experience in "Atonement" and "The Go-Between"

    5 star(s)

    Despite their repulsion, Briony and Leo feel both "disgust and fascination" in the "shady secret" of sex, sensually symbolised by the Atropa Belladonna, which with its "bold beauty" "invited and yet repelled inspection". This apprehension, even fear of sex, is also contained in the highly phallic and threatening symbols of

  2. Marked by a teacher

    The English Patient

    5 star(s)

    He was trained as a bomb defuser under Lord Suffolk, a true English gentleman, and was then virtually welcomed into an English family. Kip soon grew quite skillful at his job, able to figure out both the "joke" and the "character" of each bomb he tackled.

  1. Marked by a teacher

    Within the three texts, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, Look back in Anger by ...

    4 star(s)

    as both couples suffer from a communication breakdown, with the couple in ?Talking in Bed? a ?unique distance from isolation?. This and how in the poem, as mentioned in the first stanza, the couple are an ?emblem? for honesty, and so become to symbolise beauty being worn away by ?winds?

  2. Comment on the writers presentation of loneliness and companionship in the novels The Old ...

    and nature, with the author presenting the Old man's love for the sea as "la mar". It is explained that "la mar" describes the sea as a feminine object, which links the Santiago's loneliness from losing his wife with his affection for the sea.

  1. Compare and contrast the writers presentation of the consequences of obsessive love in: Othello, ...

    would think, would not to mix his personal life with business, but again we see how his emotions over ride his mind as he makes such a rash decision. In Act3, Scene4 we see Othello change again, he now puts on two faces to get Desdemona to confess by saying

  2. Compare and contrast the presentation of sex and sexuality in The Color Purple by ...

    This can be contrasted with his previous references to her appearance when he said "you black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman" and "you nothing at all". This portrays the society's idea that actually being a woman is seen as a disadvantage, and especially being a black and ugly woman.

  1. There is no room for individual identity in South African literature Discuss.

    In the vast majority of Bosman's stories, explicit authorial intervention is limited exclusively to the "Oom Schalk Lourens said" which punctuates each story's prefatory statement. This authorial marker is a vital tool because it immediately establishes a separation between author and storyteller.

  2. Twentieth century literature often portrays the relationship between men and women as deeply problematic. ...

    In The Homecoming, the way women and men relate is reduced to bestial levels, as viewed in the gendered animal imagery about the fillies (?they?re more unreliable, did you know that??) or through the repeated use of ?bitch? as an insult, usually coming from the supercilious Max.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work