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An essay that examines whether Briony ever achieves atonement in 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan

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Introduction

An essay that examines whether Briony ever achieves atonement in 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan Ian McEwan is held in high esteem as an author, and won the 1998 Booker prize for his novel Amsterdam. Atonement lives up to these high standards, being short listed for the 2001 Booker Prize and was awarded the best fiction novel of the year by Time Magazine. Atonement is acknowledged to be one of Ian McEwan's finest works offering a love story, a war story and a story of whether atonement is achievable. We read so much of Briony's search for it and so little of the result of that search, that perhaps the point of the book is her need for atonement and not whether she found it or not. The ambiguity of giving the story two possible endings is a very effective and clever device used by McEwan; this in turn may leave him open to criticisms by readers who are left frustrated at there being no satisfactory conclusion as to whether atonement was ever achieved. The work operates on a number of levels. It has a strong narrative and is written with tremendous descriptive power dealing with complex themes and examining the creative act of story telling via the shared, self-reflection of the main protagonist, Briony Tallis, a budding author. ...read more.

Middle

her story - partly because she "lacks courage", and partly because she enjoys her "vital role" at "centre-stage" in the unfolding drama. Her story more important to her than the truth, and in the logic of McEwan's narrative, this has significant implications for her search for atonement, which when defined is a reparation and reconciliation for a wrong doing, literally becoming "at one" with persons to whom you have done wrong. At the beginning of part two of the novel, Robbie receives a letter from Cecilia while he is serving in the army in France telling him that Briony has been in contact offering to retract her accusations against him officially. Five years on, having served most of that time in prison for a crime he did not commit, and having had his blossoming love for Cecilia frustrated by enforced absence, Robbie responds cynically. He believes immediately that Briony's desire for "absolution" is not for his benefit, but for her own, to ease her own conscience. Back in London, the reader learns Briony is living in self-imposed exile from her family, copying Cecilia's retreat from Robbie's accusers by following her sister into nursing. ...read more.

Conclusion

She is an acclaimed author facing death, is her life so awful as an adult that atonement for something she did, as a child is required for her life to continue? With the two people involved both dead, is any attempt at atonement not futile anyway? During the final chapter McEwan appears unsure how to conclude his own novel, which may explain the ambiguity of having two possible endings, leaving the final conclusions on whether Briony ever achieves atonement to be made by the reader. Did Briony ever achieve atonement? It seems not. When writing in the first person as a 77 year old, she is facing mental deterioration and will die before Lola, and the novel, her attempt at atonement, will not be published in her lifetime. Her sister and Robbie died before they could spend any meaningful time with one another so it is hard to see how atonement is remotely possible under those circumstances; perhaps the point of the book is her need for it, not whether she found it or not. Briony herself gives the answer: " No atonement for God, for novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all." Maureen Celli - Higher English ...read more.

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3 star(s)

****3 STARS

This is a very good, thoughtful essay which makes a valiant attempt to answer a difficult question. More quotes are needed throughout but the writer has explored the ambiguity of the novel and remains focused on the question. Some critical comments would be useful. Shows knowledge of novel and attempts to explore the main theme of atonement.

Marked by teacher Katie Dixon 16/07/2013

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