The Relationship Of Lola And Paul In Atonement

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Apologies are something everyone is familiar with and something that people may not think much of. An apology or atonement could be looked at as somewhat of a necessity in people’s lives. It is something small we may do after accidentally stepping on someone’s shoe, or accidentally scratching another person’s car. It could possibly be a lot more significant than many people may think. It is almost like an instinct, to make things right after doing something wrong. In Atonement, Ian McEwan demonstrates how important apologizing and atonement is because it is a means of getting rid of one’s guilt.

Atonement is making things right or getting a feeling of gratification after one has done something wrong. It is making amends with another person. This is closely related to apologies because usually, when one apologizes to another person for something that they may have done wrong, they are hoping to make things right. For example, if a person were to accidentally break their friend’s phone, they would apologize, hoping to have atonement for their action. Why this is important is because this is something that is a part of every person’s life. At one point or another someone is going to do or say something that is going to hurt someone else, which they will need to apologize for in the future. This is something that is inevitable and will happen again to every one of us. Why atonement is necessary is because it is a way of getting rid of that guilt that is inside of you. Atonement is like the key that unlocks the handcuffs of guilt on one’s wrist.

Although, there are some scenarios where people either are unable to or choose not to achieve atonement. Some people don’t necessarily enjoy living with the guilt but instead choose to live with it because they would rather not try and make things right. Some people may have missed their opportunity to make things right/apologize, like Briony, and now are left with the option to either live with the guilt, or find another way to achieve atonement. Then there are those who live with their guilt and let it serve as a constant reminder to them of what they did wrong. They might use this reminder to try to improve certain areas in their life, or make sure that they don’t make the same mistake again. Everyone experiences guilt and in a way this is a good thing because it is something one experiences when they divert from their own moral behavior. This is why most people wouldn’t steal an elderly person’s cane because we would or at least should feel guilty if we did it. Guilt is a way of helping us to correct our behavior. Apologies, atonement, and guilt are all tied together with each other.

There are many events throughout the book that built up on top of each other to create Briony’s guilt. For example, it started when Briony was headed downstairs with Lola for dinner and stopped by the library on the way there. When she opened the door she had seen Robbie and Cecilia together in the corner. She misinterpreted the situation, thinking that Cecilia was being attacked, which played a major role in Briony’s later actions. Later on in the story Briony found Lola on the ground after being raped. Being the main and really only witness, this enabled her and her imagination to take control of the whole situation. The incident in the library with Cecilia and Robbie had led Briony to believe that Robbie was the one who raped Lola, so she had accused Robbie as being the one who raped Cecilia. One of the main themes within the book is atonement. Briony spends a majority of her life trying to achieve atonement and regretting what she had done when she was young.

Briony’s testimony greatly impacted many people around her, especially Cecilia and Robbie. For example, when Briony had accused Robbie of rape, he was sent to prison which possibly ruined his career. Robbie was an intelligent person and had a bright future ahead of him. Being sent to prison made him not able to pursue the career he had in mind, eventually leading to him being forced into war. Briony’s accusation also ruined her relationship with Cecilia. Cecilia was the only one in the family that believed Robbie wasn’t guilty. She couldn’t believe that Briony had accused him of such and was no longer on good terms with her sister. Briony’s accusation also affected Robbie and Cecilia’s relationship with each other. They had just begun to become intimate with each other, but all of a sudden Robbie was being sent to prison. Cecilia and Robbie were no longer able to see each other for three and a half years. Their only way of communication was through letters which were coded by themselves. After three and a half years, Robbie and Cecilia are only able to meet with each other once, because Robbie is being sent to war. Their time together at the cafe was somewhat awkward, but when it finally came time to leave, it became hard for the two of them. They were never able to see each other again after that because Robbie had died in war. Cecilia had also died shortly after by a bombing in an underground train station.

Robbie and Cecilia weren’t the only ones who were affected by Briony’s false testimony because Lola and Paul Marshall were too. Briony falsely accused Robbie as the one who had raped Lola when in reality it was Paul who had done it. Paul was never caught for what he did or never faced any punishment for it either. Later in the future, Lola goes on to marry Paul Marshall, the same person who had raped her when she was young. This shows how much of an impact just one lie can cause and how many people it can affect.

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In her adult age, Briony is able to acknowledge and recognize the mistake that she had made. She is also able to see the gravity of the situation and just how much of an impact her false testimony had on the people around her. Multiple times throughout the book, it is revealed how much Briony had reflected on what she did and felt guilty about it. She had written a letter to her sister Cecilia, in hopes of being able to apologize to her. While walking one day, she had come across Lola’s wedding. When she realized that Lola was marrying Paul Marshall, she immediately felt guilty for it. She felt like she was responsible because she let Lola believe that she was in love with Paul. If she had just told the authorities that Paul was the one who raped Lola, they would be getting married right now. Briony carries this guilt with her all the way to her old age, never being able to make things right for what she did.

In the book, there were some literary devices used to show how atonement in needed to get rid of guilt. For example, the author used different perspectives and points of view throughout the entire book. These different perspectives allowed the reader to see the narrative through different characters’ eyes. When the book is being told from Robbie’s point of view, the reader is able to experience the true effects of Briony’s false testimony as Robbie endures the hardships of prison and war. When the book is being told from Briony’s point of view, the reader is able to experience how Briony feels and her experience going through all of this. In the beginning when she is young she tries to understand the adult world and feels like the world is controlled by her imagination. When she becomes older, she feels guilty and responsible for a lot of the problems and wants to try and find a way to fix them/make things right. These different perspectives let the reader see how Briony’s action affected different characters.

Another literary device used in the book is truth. The entire book goes back and forth between truth and fiction. What is real and what is not real? This is something Briony as a young girl struggled with. She went back and forth between reality and imagination. Briony, being the author of the book, writes about events that actually happened and some events that she had just made up. When she was younger she struggled with reality and imagination. She often times believed that her imagination was sometimes reality and that the world was in her control. This is something that she carried with her to adult her and incorporated into the novel she wrote. The only difference is that now she is able to differentiate/acknowledge what’s real and what’s not real. Imagination versus reality is also involved with Briony’s false testimony against Robbie. When she accuses Robbie of raping Lola, she wants to believe that it is what actually happened. The people around her also believe that it is what actually happened because this is what she believed and had said. This is an example of Briony using her imagination in reality.

At the end of the story, the audience is informed that Briony was the actual author of the book and that some parts of the story she had made up. In the story, Briony had gone to an apartment where Cecilia and Robbie were both staying at hoping to apologize. Even if Briony were to take back her accusation against Robbie, there was nothing that could be done about the whole situation. The damage was already done. Briony apologized to both Robbie and Cecilia but they didn’t accept her apology. Robbie was furious for what she had done to him and feels like his life had become ruined. Briony made this section of the story up because it is better if her readers believe this narrative instead of what had actually happened. Another instance of imagination vs reality. The sad truth was that Robbie had died while he was in war. Cecilia had also died shortly after by a bombing in an underground train station. Being was never able to actually apologize to either Robbie or Cecilia. Briony writing this novel, especially this section of the story, could have been her way of achieving atonement. Even in her old age she still carries the guilt of something that she did when she was just a young girl. Decades later she is still trying to make things right, even if she never will be able to do so. Briony never apologized to Robbie and Cecilia maybe because she was waiting for the right time to do so. So could have felt that she wasn’t ready to apologize to them so instead decided to wait to do so. With their deaths, this means that she missed her opportunity. This is one possibility of why she never apologized to them. This is an example that tomorrow isn’t promised. Someone might be waiting to do something but miss their opportunity because they waited to long, just like Briony might have.

McEwan uses his novel, Atonement, to highlight the importance of apologizing and atonement because it requisite when it comes to getting rid of guilt. Briony was never able to apologize to Cecilia or Robbie about what she had done that had greatly affected their lives. She could possibly be because she waited too long for the right opportunity. She instead created a false narrative for her readers in which she did apologize to the two of them because it was better for the audience to know this then the sad truth. Briony was never able to actually achieve atonement, but her writing the novel could have been an attempt to attain it.

Works Cited

McEwan, Ian. Atonement. New York: Anchor Books, 2001. 

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