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Literature 2012 Unit 4 Outcome 1 Creative Responses to texts. Atonement Ian McEwan Written in 2001. S hortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread Novel Award and winner of the W. H. Smith Literary Award . The film adaptation was released in 2007. . PART ONE.

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literature 2012 unit 4 outcome 1 creative responses to texts

Literature 2012 Unit 4 Outcome 1 Creative Responses to texts


Ian McEwan

Written in 2001. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread Novel Award and winner of the W. H. Smith Literary Award . The film adaptation was released in 2007.

part one


ian mcewan biography
Ian McEwan - Biography
  • Born 21 June in 1948 in Aldershot, Hampshire, England.
  • Spent much of his childhood in the Far East, Germany and North Africa where his father, an officer in the army, was posted
  • Returned to England and studied English at Sussex University.
  • He is a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was awarded the Shakespeare Prize by the Alfred Toepfer Foundation, Hamburg, in 1999. He was awarded a CBE in 2000.
what has he written
  • First collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites (1976), won the Somerset Maugham Award
  • Short stories - In Between the Sheets (1978)- claustrophobic tales of childhood, deviant sexuality and disjointed family life, remarkable for their formal experimentation and controlled narrative voice
  • First novel, The Cement Garden (1978) - story of four orphaned children living alone after the death of both parents. To avoid being taken into care, they bury their mother in cement in the basement and attempt to carry on as normal a life as possible, and an incestuous relationship develops between the two eldest children as they seek to emulate their parents roles.
  • The Comfort of Strangers (1981), set in Venice, a tale of fantasy, violence and obsession. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.
  • The Child in Time (1987), won the Whitbread Novel Award
  • The Innocent (1990) is a love story set in post-war Berlin.
what has he written cont
What has he written? Cont...
  • Black Dogs (1992) visits the most significant events of modern European history, ranging from Nazi death camps to post-war France and the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
  • Enduring Love (1997), begins with the death of a man in a ballooning accident, an event that triggers a tale of stalking, fixation and erotomania.
  • Amsterdam (1998) is described by McEwan as a contemporary fable. Three men, a composer, a newspaper editor and a politician, meet at the funeral of their former lover, sparking off a bitter feud. It was awarded the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1998. 
  • Film adaptations of his own novels include First Love, Last Rites (1997), The Cement Garden (1993) and The Comfort of Strangers (1991) and Atonement (2007)
  • On ChesilBeach(2007)- shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and winner of the British Book Awards Book of the Year and Author of the Year Awards
  • Solar(2010), a satirical novel focusing on climate change.
overview of atonement
  • Story is set in 1935, England, with the threat of the approaching war hanging over its characters.
  • The novel is divided into three sections, with a coda set in London in 1999. Plot is structured around three-way relationships.
  • Atonement'smain characters are BrionyTallis, a thirteen year old with literary pretensions, her older sister Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of their family's cleaning lady.
  • Robbie and Cecilia are down from Cambridge, where Robbie has been educated at the expense of the girls' father, a Whitehall civil servant whose rule over but absence from the young people's world of play-acting and romance recalls that of Sir Thomas Bertram in Mansfield Park.
  • As with many of McEwan's previous novels, the plot hinges on a pivotal moment in the characters' lives which opens the novel.
context question to consider write down ideas to the following
Context – Question to considerWrite down ideas to the following:
  • 1935 England

Comment on the social context and how this impacted the characters. Consider the class status, gender roles, the threat of war

  • The novel is set before World War II. McEwan wrote Atonement in 2001.

How might he want his reader to view issues pertaining to 1935? What are his views and values regarding the context of 1935?

questions to consider write down notes to the following questions
Questions to considerWrite down notes to the following questions:
  • How does the setting of the Tallis house reflect wider social or material circumstances? Consider social power and privilege; lack of opportunity; feelings of entrapment? pg. 19, pg 145
  • What emotions and impulses are being acted upon or repressed by its inhabitants? chp. 1, chp,. 2, chap. 8

(Consider Briony’s desire to be an adult, Cecilia’s expected female role, her ‘torpor’ regarding leaving the family home, her love for Robbie, Robbie’s love for Cecilia, his desire to be successful)

  • How does the careful attention to detail affect the pace of Part One?
  • What is the effect of the acceleration of plot events as part one nears its end?
language and writing features in atonement
Language and writing features in Atonement

Look again at the first chapters of the novel. Consider McEwan’s use of language. How does he describe the events and emotions of the character? How does his writing develop the novel? You need to consider:

  • His use of metaphors/similes
  • The impact of his use of imagery
  • Are sentences long and complex or simple and straight forward?
  • Use of formal or informal language
  • Is irony used? What is its effect? Dramatic tension? Social criticism?
  • How does he develop the tone of each character?
language in atonement detailed imagery
Language in Atonement – Detailed Imagery

In the early evening, high altitude clouds in the western sky formed a thin yellow wash which became richer over the hour, end then thickened until a filtered orange glow hung above the giant crests of parkland trees; the leaves became nutty brown, the branches glimpsed among the foliage oily black, and the desiccated grasses took on the colours of the sky... Though the sun was weakening as it dropped, the temperature seemed to rise because the breeze that had brought faint relief all day had faded, and now the air was still an heavy. pg. 78

Why did McEwan include this description? How did it develop the tone at this point of the novel? How is it reflective of Robbie’s character?

formal language
Formal Language

But perhaps – he had rolled onto his back – he should not believe in her outrage. Wasn’t it too theatrical? Surely she must have meant something better, even in her anger. Even in her anger, she had wanted to show him just how beautiful she was and bind him to her. How could he trust such a self serving idea derived from hope and desire? pg. 81

Even when Robbie is considering how much he was in love in Cecilia, and how frustrating it was, McEwan uses formal language. What is the impact of this? How does it develop his character? The tone of this section of the plot? How does it develop key concerns of the text?

language in atonement use of dramatic tension and metaphor
Language in Atonement – use of Dramatic Tension and Metaphor

At some moments chilling, at others desperately sad, the play told a tale of the heart whose message, conveyed in a rhyming prologue, was that love which did not build a foundation on good sense was doomed. pg. 3

Briony was hardly to know it then, but this was the project’s highest point of fulfilment pg. 4

...she had no secrets. Her wish for a harmonious, organised world denied her the reckless possibilities of wrong doing. Mayhem and destruction were too chaotic for her tastes, and she did not have it in her to be cruel. pg. 5

language in atonement
Language in Atonement

Writing Task

This activity develops your ability to write in the author’s style

Imagine you are a character from the text. Write a passage in McEwan’s style – for example:

  • Describe the room you are in
  • Describe a person you know
  • Give an account of your day

(You could imagine you are a character from the text)

what is the genre of the novel
What is the genre of the novel
  • Historical fiction
  • War fiction
  • Crime fiction
  • Romance
  • Novel of manners

Explain your answer in 150 words

styles of the three parts of atonement
Styles of the three parts of Atonement

How could you link the three parts to Victorian, Modern and Postmodern writing

Explain your reasoning. Provide evidence to support your ideas.

part two


significance of the title
Significance of the title?
  • What is the meaning of the word ‘Atonement’?

Attempt to write your own definition

  • Make a list of synonyms and antonyms for the word
  • Why do you thin McEwan chose this as the title?
a change to the tile
A change to the tile...
  • For the duration of writing the novel, its title was An Atonement
  • After reading the manuscript, Timothy Garton Ash , suggested he remove ‘an’ because the novel is about a general sense of redemption and more widespread guilt
significance of title cont
Significance of title cont...
  • The word atonement has strong religious connotations involving the turning away of divine wrath.
  • Ian McEwan, an atheist, defines atonement as a 'reconciliation with self', having split the word into three constituent parts: At-one-ment(The Observer, September 16th, 2001).

Writing Task: 80 words

Your opinion: Is atonement for the benefit of the individual or for those who were wronged?

how is the idea of atonement significant to the text
How is the idea of Atonement significant to the text?

Make a list of the actions/crimes that require some form of redemption.

You will need to consider:

  • Personal actions
  • Social actions
  • Miscarriages of justice
  • War and its atrocities
your own letter of atonement
Your Own Letter of Atonement

Is there something that you have felt guilt/remorse over?

Write out a letter of atonement to someone in your life. (It can be linked to your life, or fictional)

part three


how can the craft of writing expiate sin and bring redemption
How can the craft of writing expiate sin and bring redemption?
  • The title refers to the process of forgiving or pardoning a transgression
  • Alludes to the Briony’ssearch for atonement after making a serious mistake that has life-changing effects for many.
  • through the remaining years of the century, she seeks atonement - which leads to an exploration on the nature of writing itself.
redemption through writing
Redemption through writing...
  • Throughout the novel, the reader can see the characters search for atonement. "I gave them happiness, but I was not so self-serving as to let them forgive me," Briony says at the end of the novel.
  • Briony recognizes her sin and attempts to atone for it through writing her novel. She does not grant herself forgiveness.
  • She attempts to earn atonement through giving Robbie and Cecilia a life together in her writing.
questions explored in atonement
Questions explored in Atonement

In her letters to Robbie, Cecilia quotes from W. H. Auden's 1939 poem, "In Memory of W. B. Yeats," which includes the line, "Poetry makes nothing happen."

Write down your ideas to the following questions:

  • Is the writing of fiction much more than the construction of elaborate entertainments—an indulgence in imaginative play?
  • Can fiction bear witness to life and to history, telling its own serious truths.
  • Is Briony's novel effective, in her own conscience, as an act of atonement? Does the completed novel compel the reader to forgive her?
part four


why did mcewan choose this epigraph
Why did McEwan choose this epigraph?
  • The novel's epigraph is taken from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, in which Catherine, a naïve young woman caught up in fantasies from the Gothic fiction she loves to read, imagines that her host in an English country house is a villain.
  • She finds the father of her host, General Tilney, very aloof and her first night in the abbey is disturbing and full of scary incidents
  • She finds out that Mrs Tilney died nine years ago, and imagines that due to General Tilney’s lack of emotion, he is responsible.
  • Atonement’s epigraph is the section where Henry, the Tilney son, tells her that her suspicions are groundless.
  • She feels guilty for telling him her fears and thinks he doesn’t like her anymore.
power of the imagination
Power of the Imagination

In Austen's novel Catherine Norland's mistakes are comical and have no serious outcome, while in Atonement, Briony's fantasies have tragic effects upon those around her.

Respond to the following question:

What is McEwan implying about the power of the imagination, and its potential for harm when unleashed into the social world?

the epigraph links between atonement and austen
The epigraph – links between Atonement and Austen
  • McEwan gives the family home rather gothic touches
  • There is an absent father in both novels and the lack of a real mother figure, Briony is like the young Austen, a writer who takes her craft very seriously and she is precocious
  • Austen was surrounded by an appreciative and receptive family who she used in her productions
  • Austen used to present her childhood writings on a polished way – mimicking typesetting and including tables of contents and a dedication
  • Briony wants to be a great writer and by the end of the novel it is implied that she has achieves some status. She refers to herself as a novelist by saying ‘Atonement’ will be her last
links to austen
Links to Austen
  • Tilney Hotel on pg. 363 – link to General Tilney of Northanger Abbey
  • Robbie has a degree in English Lit, reference to him having a 3rd edition copy of Austen on his shelf
  • Crimes in Atonement, just as Catherine has suggested in Northanger Abbey – the accusation, Robbie’s punishment, the war, social injustice

Your Opinion:

  • What is the effect of the epigraph on the novel and the reader?
intertextual references
Intertextual References
  • The story of the relationship between two sisters seems to draw on Austen, and perhaps Middlemarch.
  • Atonement, for its first section, is a novel in the country house tradition.
  • Draws on the many precedents of Austen, Forster, Bowen, Henry Green, Rosamond Lehmann and Ivy Compton Burnett
  • Links to Henry James, What MaisieKnew, and Hartley's The Go-Between, influenceingMcEwan'sstory of an adult's world seen through the eyes of a child.
  • Atonement also echoes Clarissa's recreation of Bourton in her memories in MrsDalloway
  • The shifting perspectives within Atonement is also evident in VirginaWoolf's writing.