Nominated for the 2001 Booker Research Paper

Total Length: 2169 words ( 7 double-spaced pages)

Total Sources: 6

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"All you family assumed it for all my education… I was still little better than a servant, still not to be trusted." The real dysfunction, then, goes far beyond the Tallis estate, and is more clearly a broader sociological dysfunction embedded within society. "He laughed politely, though he must have thought me profoundly stupid. It is quite impossible these days to assume anything about people's educational level from the way they talk or dress or from their taste in music. Safest to treat everyone you meet as a distinguished intellectual." (p. 342).

Instead of following this path, however, the circumstances surrounding that tragic evening cause both sisters to rethink their role as women, and members of society, in favor of a service career -- nursing. Cecilia travels to London, becomes a nurse, and cuts herself completely away from the family. Cecilia is so ashamed of her family, not only is she trying to find something to do to help society to make up for any perceived role she had in not defending Robbie vociferously. So, too, does Briony become a nurse, helping members of the lower classes and certainly acting as someone far from an elite social caste? Briony's rewriting of history; her ability to actualize as a writer by removing the social stigma of class from Robbie and Cecilia's life, of allowing the sisters to leave their plush, yet safe, place in society; all contributes to the sham of the upper class and the way that until more reality hit "planned" gender and social roles were immovable.

Clearly, Cecilia had already wished to remove herself from the bonds of society at the time as she learned about and expressed her coming into adulthood: They were beyond the present, outside time, with no memories and no future. There was nothing but obliterating sensation, thrilling and swelling and the sound of fabric on fabric and skin on fabric as their limbs slid across each other in this restless, sensuous wrestling. ... They moved closer, deeper and then, for seconds on end, everything stopped.
Instead of an ecstatic frenzy, there was stillness. They were stilled not by the astonishing fact of arrival, but by an awed sense of return - they were face-to-face in the gloom, staring into what little they could see of each other's eyes, and now it was the impersonal that dropped away.

Point-of-view- the power of the novel is not just in the thematic treatment of class, gender, and the historical background of the period. In many ways, similar to the novels of Jane Austin, the multi-narrative style allows the reader to see the characters through different eyes during different chronological periods. In the opening act, perception and misperception are enhanced because the characters behave as we expect them to. Then, despite the fact that we find out one of the main characters is actually the writer of the novel; multiple perspectives of reality come to bear: Robbie's view of being wrongfully accused yet atoned by giving Britain his ultimate sacrifice; Cecila's burden and perhaps subsequent atonement in her world by following a path of service rather than the path of expecting such; the Tallis family's disarray and dissolution after their parts in Robbie's conversion, and finally with Briony, who atones each and every day through her writing and her construction of a better world for all. While we, the reader, do not know what reality is and what is not, our process of willing suspension of disbelief is challenged throughout the book. Indeed, we the reader must also atone with the characters; not necessarily for reasons of our own compilation, but as a universal act of valor and kindness, and in wanting the world to evolve into a kinder, more egalitarian, approach to the world.


Daniels, B. (2003). Poverty and Families in Victorian England. Retrieved from:

Knight, K. (2009). Doctrine of the Atonement. New Advent. Retrieved from:

McEwan, I. (2003). Atonement. New York: Anchor….....

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