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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

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Introduction

"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.

Middle

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.

Conclusion

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.

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