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How is the theme of

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How is the theme of "Atonement" explored in the book of that name? Atonement comes from an "at onement", the idea being that penance and suffering allows us to be "at one" with God or ourselves. The central theme of atonement is that of seeking forgiveness. This is manifested through the characters and their actions. In the book "Atonement" by Ian McEwan, the act carried out by Briony sets of a chain of events, for which either atonement is sought or society seeks atonement from. Briony's character is described as being compulsively orderly, "She was one of those children possessed by a desire to have the world just so." Briony's craving to manipulate and control, and also her perception of how Robbie spoilt her play, leads her to committing her crime. Her overactive imagination causes her to misinterpret a scene between Robbie and Cecelia, and then later catches them in the library, where she incorrectly concludes that Robbie is attacking Cecelia. ...read more.


Due to Briony's age, and her imagination, she blurs fact and fantasy, without realising the future consequences. She wanted to be acknowledged and felt that her condemnation of Robbie would achieve this. She never considers the possibility of role-reversal, when Robbie would have the power or redemption over her. Robbie was condemned and sent to prison. He was forced to atone by society, by being refused certain books and having his letters censored. He was only permitted his mother to visit after being diagnosed as "morbidly over-sexed" and "at risk of being inflamed". Briony only starts to realise her crime as she grows older. In a letter to Robbie, Cecelia paraphrases a letter from Briony, "She's beginning to get the full grasp of what she did...I think she wants to recant." When Briony goes to visit Cecelia, the reader comprehends that Briony doesn't want to withdraw her statement for Robbie's benefit but instead to find favour with her sister and to reassemble her previous family life: " 'I don't expect you to forgive me.' ...read more.


Cecelia and Robbie never see the book, after both dying in 1940. Their deaths could also be seen as their final atonement, for atoning eventually involves forgiveness: they never forgave Briony. This means that Briony's redemption is never complete. Briony imagines the whole occurrence to be something she has written up and tells herself, "No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task" Briony never attains absolute atonement, due to the extent of her crime and because she cannot be forgiven for it. She was never forced to pay any penance for it, in the same manner that Robbie and Cecelia were, nor did she offer any atonement for a desire to set things right, only to soothe her conscience. It can be therefore concluded that perhaps betrayal is something that cannot be atoned for. McEwan forces the criminal to face the life sentence for the crime she has committed. If McEwan is to believe, atonement is something that can rarely be fully achieved as everything has its price. ...read more.

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