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Atonement Part 3. Written from the perspective of Briony She has given up her place at Cambridge in order to ‘help with the war effort’, but is obviously unsure of what to expect . Doesn’t show regret or self pity for doing so.

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slide2

Written from the perspective of Briony

  • She has given up her place at Cambridge in order to ‘help with the war effort’, but is obviously unsure of what to expect. Doesn’t show regret or self pity for doing so.
  • Her youth is evident as she is surprised to discover that the hospital preparations were for the retreat of Dunkirk. Naive, innocent?
  • Her writing style is more assured, and there is a new maturity in her voice – a contrast to Part One
  • She uses long sentences with effective, not simply impressive, word choices.
  • The style of writing captures the immediacy of what she is seeing in the hospital
slide3

Briony finds the other girls she works with ‘theatrical’ in regard to their homesickness, ironic considering her tendency to overdramatise in Part One

  • Briony distances herself from her family.
  • The destruction of parts of the family’s country’s estate echoes the destruction of an era in English social history that the estate represents.
slide4

Briony still hopes to become a great writer

  • Her thoughts about literature have changed, as she now hopes to be part of a new direction in English writing, not revolving just around plot and character.
  • Her first attempt at being published, before we know she is the narrator, is refused through Cyril Connolly’ letter p. 312. Links are made to Virginia Wolf
  • Style of writing does not diminish the horror
  • She juxtaposes the soldiers’ pain to homely images, The blackened leg like an over-ripe banana, removing the blood cake gauze like whipping a tablecloth from beneath crockery. This tends to make the experience more horrifying.
  • The accounts of the injuries are obscene – causing the text to become emotionally devastating
slide5

Due to her nursing experiences, Briony knows she will never fully understand what Robbie experienced.

  • However, in writing her story she shows us his experiences and feelings.
  • McEwan is commenting on the right of the novelist to delve into the psyche of characters they have created, while simultaneously acknowledging that it is only the individual that really knows himself.
slide6

Seeing Paul Marshall and Lola getting married is the first time Briony has decided that Paul committed the assault.

  • The image she uses of the secret, walled up and alive in their marriage, is not only a sad start to their marriage but binds them together in crime.
slide7

Briony visits Cecilia and Robbie in London.

  • They have obviously changed due to the harsh experiences they have faced.
  • The hazy, languid days of Part One are gone
  • Robbie and Cecilia’s love has matured also
  • Briony still shows she is naive in her hope for reconciliation, hoping to regain her post of beloved younger sister p 329. This, together with Robbie and Cecilia’s happiness, offers a hopeful ending.
  • Interesting point: Ironic that Robbie and Cecilia falsely accuse Danny Hardman with no more evidence than what Briony had
slide8

After visiting Cecilia and Robbie, Briony comments she knew what was required of her, Not simply a letter, but a new draft, an atonement... P. 349

  • This is the end of the main part of the novel, and its beginning, as Briony determines to write a new version of the story.
  • This new version becomes the novel we have just read
  • The signature and date reveals that the whole novel has been written by Briony in old age.
  • This forces the reader to re-evaluate their entire reading and initial perception of the novel.
slide10

The epilogue undoes everything that was previously written.

  • The idea of believing in the events narrated is shattered. We are shocked to learn Briony has rewritten the ending.
  • She comments that she can see no virtue in presenting the bleak ‘true’ ending of Cecilia and Robbie’s story,one sealed off at both ends so it resembled...every other story p. 6
  • However, she does not achieve a ‘neat ending’ as her epilogue doesn’t allow it.
slide11

The epilogue forces the reader to question what is expected from a novel, what the novelist is expected to deliver and whether the narrator has any obligation to truth

  • The key ideas of memory and truth are enforced by the revelation that Briony is losing her memory
  • Also acknowledged again, by brief descriptions of those at her party, is the idea that not all stories can be told. We receive only glimpses of the other’s lives.
  • Briony/McEwan include another twist by commenting that she could just as easily write the epilogue with Robbie and Cecilia watching the play at Briony’s party.
  • The reader is left with the sense that they don’t know what is real, we can never know ‘what really happened’. P. 371 However, we know McEwan is the novelist, hence it is all a fabrication.
  • We are left to ponder if Briony made the whole story up.
slide12

McEwan gives the older Briony an ability to imagine herself into her younger skin.

  • He is imagining himself into a narrator -imagining another narrator - imagining a third character’s mind. Confusing....?!
  • The importance/significance of literature is also raised.

Robbie questioned What did the poets know about survival p. 264, but literature sustains him, making him civilised and human.

  • McEwanbelives in the moral value of literature, believing that imagining oneself as someone else in the key to compassion.
what did you think of the ending
What did you think of the ending?

Write your own response to the ending.

  • Consider how you felt on discovering that Briony was the omniscient narrator
  • Discuss what you thought McEwan was trying to achieve
  • Do you think it was an effective conclusion?
  • How did it emphasise McEwan’s ideas on truth and memory, writing and imagination?