A Thin Line Between Imagination And Reality In “Atonement” By Ian McEwan

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Atonement is a 2001 novel written by Ian McEwan regarding the need for individual atonement. This novel is set in three time periods, 1935 England, Second World War England and France, and present-day England, it involves an upper-class girl’s whose single lie ruins lives, her adulthood in the shadow of that mistake, and a reflection on the nature of writing. The main focus of the novel is on Briony Tallis because she alone accused Robbie of the rape of her cousin Lola and became a cause for the death of Robbie and Cecilia with breaking the Tallis family. In this novel, the intensity of imagination is viewed as a means for both retrieval and to dishonour oneself. While imagination is good up to a certain extent as it influences the thoughts and is a means of providing hope but there are many hazards of confounding imagination with the real world because not accepting the reality puts oneself into the vicious cycle of isolation from other, it destroys numerous lives and is a reason for the manipulation of facts and thoughts.

To begin, when Briony was thirteen years old, she was too young that made it impossible for her to completely get a handle on the grown-up world, yet mature enough to assume she comprehended her social condition on an adult level. This uncertain, short-term placing in her mental development, combined with the situations she happened to watch prompted to the misappropriation of the feelings such as Briony watched the episode amongst Cecilia and Robbie at the fountain where she can’t listen to them. “There was something rather formal about the way he stood, feet apart, head held back. A proposal of marriage. Briony would not have been surprised. She herself had written a tale in which a humble woodcutter saved a princess from drowning and ended by marrying her”. Briony believed that Robbie was proposing to Cecilia for marriage and she found it quite romantic and connected that scene to her own story that she wrote about woodcutter and princess which depicted her sense of imagination and the level of immaturity in her. She supposed that Robbie was having an absolute authority over her sister and compelled her to undress and drown herself. She took her imagination to another level and thought that Robbie was either blackmailing or threatening her sister and that he had some power over her.

Another episode where her imagination turned around a lot of things. “He looked so huge and wild, and Cecilia with her bare shoulders and thin arms so frail that Bryony had no idea what she could achieve as she started to go towards them”. She saw Cecilia and Robbie making love in the library and considered that to be an attack on her sister. Briony, in light of seeing things she doesn’t appropriately comprehend, developed a story in which Robbie was seen as a monster who was trying to contain her delicate and weak sister. She managed to turn the entire romantic lovemaking into an attack on her sister. This showed her sense of unawareness and we can perceive her as a small imaginative girl. However, according to the perceptive of both the lovers, it was an act of romance that they exchanged.

Briony imagined Robbie to be a ‘maniac’ as said by Lola due to the letter Briony read given to her by Robbie for Cecilia that contained the word ‘cunt’. Briony saw Lola being assaulted, however, can’t totally observe anything since it was dull. All of this forced her into believing that it was Robbie responsible for raping Lola which in turn ruined Robbie’s life and he lost his reputation due to the crime that he never committed. Briony’s imagination caused a huge conflict within the Tallis family as well. She separated Robbie and Cecilia who were in love with each other. It also forced Robbie into prison and in order to leave the prison, he had to go to the war.

During the World War II, when Briony became a nurse to repent for the mistake she did as a 13-year-old, created stories — just this time, she depended on her writing to deal with the damage she had caused. “The woman goes fully dressed into the fountain to retrieve the pieces. Wouldn’t it help you if the watching girl did not actually realise that the vase had broken? It would be all more of a mystery to her that woman submerges herself”. These lines explained the literary history and the style in which the story is narrated. She submitted her impressions, about seeing Cecilia and Robbie at the fountain but the letter of rejection from the magazine stated that she should bring some changes in the storyline to make it more interesting and not pay attention to random impressions. It urged her to dig further into the damages the witness (Briony) can cause to the lovers. So, it means that most of the story we were reading is not all true but things were changed in any possible way.

At the end of the novel, it is found that this story was written by Briony herself. The whole book was an outline of the Illusion and storytelling. “That I never saw them in that year. That my walk across London ended at the church on Clapham Common, and that a cowardly Briony limped back into the hospital unable to confront her recently bereaved sister”. She imagined the incident of meeting Cecilia and Robbie in London in the year 1940. She manipulated facts and wrote that all to provide entertainment and develop the storytelling. She tried to enhance the story and tell people what might have happened as well. She also brought Cecilia and Robbie back into the life. She ended the story with the happy ending for Robbie and Cecilia even though she also made a reference in the novel that both die in the war. She knew that the reader might get too involved with the characters and may get upset due to a sad ending. She considered that to be her way to atone her herself from the crime she committed. She wished to attain atonement by deciding the outcomes. She cannot be forgiven for what she did, there is not a higher authority from whom she can attain atonement.

To conclude, Briony was an extremely confounding character since she had a difficult time judging the distinction amongst the real world and the imaginative world. Since imagination comes mostly from the inner part of oneself which can ignore certain details and facts which can be detrimental as we can see in the case of Robbie and Cecilia dying in the war. Imagination is great up to a specific degree as it impacts the opinions of people. However, with numerous dangers of confusing imagination with the present reality can place oneself into the endless loop of disconnection from other, destroying many lives and isolating families.

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