Atonement by Ian McEwan

atonementHave you ever felt guilty for doing something wrong and blaming somebody else for it? The situation would normally occur in everyday life–between siblings, friends, families. It could be for something simple. Like an eraser being misplaced or a pen. Or it could go deep down to  be more serious case, to things like money. That’s what Briony Tallis felt for the rest of her life. It wasn’t exactly her fault and was caused by a misunderstanding. The guilt had made her feel remorse for life. Every time she did something, she was reminded of her err that she had done many years ago. It just always happened that Briony was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It all led to the chain events that happened to a forever convicted.

It had happened when she was thirteen. Briony was a script writer and she was very good at writing. She had an older sister whom she cared for very much named Cecelia Tallis. It was the summer of 1935 when it all happened. The twins Jackson and Pierrot, Briony’s cousins, and older sister Lola were visiting Briony’s family estate. Briony was excited to make a small play with them as players. There was Robbie Turner too, who was one of Cecelia’s childhood friends. He was the son of the servants there. Since they grew up together, they were quite close.

Here was what had happened in Briony’s Point of View:

She just happened to be passing the fountain when she noticed some kind of tension between Robbie and Cecelia. She was too far to hear anything of the conversation, or to know about the situation. But it looked like Robbie seemed to be threatening Cecelia, and he was acting really aggressively. Then Robbie gave Briony a piece of paper to Cecelia. Briony’s suspicions soared when she read it. It was full of disgusting and really vulgar stuffs. When she walked into the library to see Robbie and Cecelia making love, she was misinterpreting it as rape. It’s not like everybody would listen to Robbie’s point of view because he was the servant boy.

What really happened was this:

Robbie and Cecelia had a small little fight at the fountain, in which Robbie realized that he was probably in love with Cecelia. The letter he gave Briony was the wrong one. It was one of the drafts he wanted to throw away. It just happened to be misplaced, showing that Robbie has just horrible luck. The truth was Robbie never had intention of raping Cecelia at all.

To pile up to the amount, the twins had ran away. Everybody alarmed, trying to search for them. In the dark, Lola got raped. She was unable to identify the raper, but Briony– already creeped out because of Robbie, and wanted him punished– testified that she saw Robbie did it, making him got arrested.

I could understand it from Briony’s point of view. She was panicked and scared. She wanted the guy she thought did something wrong to her sister punished. She thought Robbie could do more damage to her sister if he was left around unattended. Her feelings had reached a full peak at Lola’s rape when she finally decided to testify the false thing. Her one major flaw was that she didn’t cared to find out things from different points of view. It might had changed the outcome of the story.

Do you know what the butterfly effect is? It’s when a small little action caused great destruction. Its like a small insect causing a bird to dive down and cause a car in the highway to swerve into another car and cause a huge highway accident. This is what the story all about.  At the second part of the novel, the World War 2 started. Cecelia was mad, because everybody listened to Briony. She was the only one who knew the truth, but there was another flaw. She didn’t tell people her point of view. So she cut off every next communication she had with her family. Robbie, meanwhile had been released, only to join the army at the front line. It was almost the same thing as killing him.

I really like this story because as a teenager, I can easily relate to things that happen. The misunderstandings, the hatred, the pressure to tell the lie, and how guilty people could feel. I feel bad for Briony because she had screwed up her life so badly at an early age. A life expectancy of humans that time was about 50-60 during the time. She had to live more than forty years with that sin. It became worse for her when she realized the truth.

Briony’s mother said about her daughter that “she was always off and away in her mind”. I paid attention to ‘away in her mind’ as one of important key subjects here. It means fantasy, day-dream, even self-dramatisation. As a writer, she as all the powerful and dangerous tool to work out her imagination. How bad is the imagination? The central character is a maker of stories and plays, and so already a writer of fictions that have only their ‘own kind of truth’ and are ‘dependent on fantasies’. Readers are invited to share, with whatever measure of scepticism or credulity they can muster.

This is the private drama of loss of innocence and betrayal. It’s played out against a larger history of bad faith. It contains all kinds of tender human feeling: the lovers’ determination to be together, the confused of young woman, the hopelesness of the future.

Ian Russell McEwan is an English novelist and screenwriter. In 2008, The Times featured him on their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”. Atonement is the runner up for 2001 Booker Prize for fiction. McEwan began his career writing sparse making gothic short stories.


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