The chaos in Part 2 of ‘Atonement’ is matched by the chaos in ‘The Crucible’
McEwan’s ‘Atonement’ throws its narration into an abject state of confusion in Part Two, with Robbie facing the horrible images of war which repeatedly return in his state of consciousness as menacing flashbacks; history has once again repeated itself in the destruction of French society as he makes his way towards Dunkirk, while the citizens of Salem in ‘The Crucible’ experience the terrible murders and descent into chaos at the whim of Abigail and the breakdown of order within society.
Little is left to imagination in the opening of Part Two within ‘Atonement’, as McEwan assumes the narrative role of Robbie in the midst of confusion and the reader is immediately thrust into a situation where there ‘were horrors enough’, with worse to come as he examines the destruction of a household as he notes ‘The scraps of cloth…may have been a child’s… A boy’s’. The complete lack of respect for human life is fully realised when Robbie observes that ‘it was a leg in a tree…wedged in the first forking of the trunk…severed cleanly… small enough to be a child’s’; it is disturbing that the Robbie notes that the leg ‘seemed to be on display, for their benefit or enlightenment: this is a leg’. The situation of body parts strewn across the landscape can only be seen as a ‘normal’ situation, and Robbie describes his company as ‘[refusing] to be drawn in…in the past few days they had seen enough’. Miller mirrors this in ‘The Crucible’, especially in regards to the lack of respect for human life. The Putnams, described as ‘a man with many grievances’. Disturbingly it is this very part of him that results in the ensuing chaos of which he acts as a land-grabber, making full use of the Salem witch trials to his profit. The audience becomes fully aware of this motivation when the introduction of his character notes that ‘many accusations against people are in the handwriting of Thomas Putnam’, and the later accusations of Proctor are first hinted by Putnam suggesting that ‘The tract is in (his) bounds’; notably after Proctor’s condemnation the only person that can afford to purchase such expensive property within Salem is, in fact, Thomas Putnam. In another accusation, Giles Corey argues that ‘If Jacobs hangs…there is none but Putnam with the coin to buy so great a piece’. We see the descent into chaos as Putnam is clearly willing to trade human life for his own physical gain, with even the Reverend Paris in implied collusion, when he adamantly exclaims that Salem has not treated him in accordance to his rights as a minister, and he too decides to join the accusation bandwagon which only leads to condemnation of further innocence. Both texts refer to the destruction of humanity; it is disturbingly normalised in Robbie’s war with the citizens only seeing ‘mutilated bodies’, ‘in a way tortured by war’2 while the envy of the characters within ‘The Crucible’ is directly responsible for the deaths that ensue.