‘In Crime Writing There Are Always Victims”: Pinkie versus Rosie, and Briony versus Robbie
Throughout crime fiction such as ‘Atonement’ and ‘Brighton Rock’, unwitting characters fall to the machinations that antagonists – even immature antagonists – set for them. While some might argue that the characters in Graham Greene’s novel ‘Brighton Rock’ and Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement’ are responsible for their own fate and partake in criminality themselves, Rose, for example, is clearly presented as the victim of Pinkie’s criminality, and Robbie becomes the victim of Briony’s jealousy and fantastical delusions, as well as the victim of false imprisonment and of war.
Greene depicts Rose as a victim in ‘Brighton Rock’, creating a character with whom the audience can easily sympathise and pity. The author refers to Rose as having the “fear, obstinacy and incomprehension of a wild animal”; these negative adjectives evoke connotations of weakness and innocence, which are further emphasised by the description of Rose as a “wild animal”. Naturalistic imagery juxtaposed with Rose’s descent into criminal subservience enforces her status as a victim of Pinkie’s criminality as well as the poor socio-economic conditions that she faces. Rose cannot escape her subservience and subjugation, as prior to the Second World War, in the society in which Rose lives, women had little power in society whereas men occupied the majority of influential roles. As “a stranger in a country of moral sin”, Rose’s naivety is manipulated by Pinkie to fulfil his criminal intent; Pinkie barters with her father for marriage like Rose is a commodity “confused in the financial game” in order to ensure her silence. The noun ‘confused’ suggests that Rose is someone who is never able to impose her own will, be it because of her social status, the treatment of women in the pre-war society or the significance of Pinkie in her life. Therefore, there are always victims in crime writing just as Rose is utilised by others for their own gain, implying that she is a victim.
One could argue that, on the other hand, Rose wishes to be “bad” like Pinkie, so she chooses the criminal life, which contradicts the supposition that in crime writing there are always victims. Rose states that “I want to be bad if she’s good”; the verb ‘want’ infers that Rose actively wishes to become a criminal like Pinkie rather than a victim. In addition to this, the character believes that “they couldn’t damn [Pinkie] without damning her too”. Religion was still a dominant part of British society and Greene states that Rose is a member of the Catholic Church so for Rose to ask to be “damned” – a word inherently suggestive of sin and immorality – infers that Rose should be seen as a criminal rather than a victim. Even if she turns to criminality due to her upbringing and poverty, Rose still chooses to rebel against law and order by becoming impassive to Pinkie’s criminality thus, unwittingly, reducing the chance of justice for Hale.
In Ian McEwan’s crime novel ‘Atonement’, the statement is supported by Robbie’s continual victimhood, from being a victim of Briony’s need for control to a victim of war. Robbie bemoans that “to be cleared would be a pure state. He dreamed of it like a lover, with a simple longing”. The past tense form of the verb ‘dream’ and the noun ‘longing; convey that Robbie is desperate to be vindicated for a crime he did not commit rather than be tainted by lies. Robbie could be seen as a victim of a justice system which favours the upper class rather than the lower class like himself, the son of the cook. His desperation to be found innocent contributes to his portrayal as a victim of Briony’s fantastical desires which lead to her criminal behaviour. Robbie is also a victim of war, subjected to “the indifference with which men could lob shells into a landscape”. Like so many other men during the Second World War, Robbie’s fate is determined by the political will of others, dying “of septicaemia” to fulfil the purpose of an ideological struggle. His fate is also determined by Briony’s decision to incriminate him. However, this crime causes Briony to seek some form of atonement for her crime in later life, which leads to another crime: the distortion of the truth to appease her guilt. Briony lies to the reader, pretending that Robbie did not die during the Second World War, so she can give Robbie a preferable ending which lessens the severity of her crime. Just as Briony is presented as the criminal, Robbie is presented as the victim of her crimes, meaning that in crime fiction, there are always victims.
Despite this, it could be argued that Robbie’s decisions cause his pain and suffering, Briony cannot be seen as entirely responsible for his victimhood. Robbie recognises that “this decision, as he was to acknowledge many times, transformed his life”, as the verb ‘transformed’ implies that he chose to initiate the course of events which resulted in Briony’s accusation by indulging in his desires. He becomes the victim because he chooses to do so, moulding Briony and Lola’s view of him as the ‘maniac’ who pursues societal transgression – this gives Briony the ‘evidence’ of Robbie’s supposed criminality, in turn leading to his arrest. Even so, one could dispute this argument due to the fact that Briony has autonomy over her thoughts and actions so she, in fact, chooses to engineer Robbie’s downfall by misconstruing a fairly normal action as a criminal act because she is jealous of her sister and angered by Robbie’s rejection of Briony’s love for him. Whilst to an extent Robbie could be seen as responsible for his conviction, it is clearly Briony’s transgression that causes this, of which Robbie is a victim.
In crime writing such as ‘Atonement’ and ‘Brighton Rock’ there are, indeed, always victims. Rose and Robbie are the victims of criminality of others, namely Pinkie and Briony, as well as the status of women, socio-economic factors and the Second World War. One could argue that these characters are responsible for the actions which cause them to be viewed as victims, either due to their transgression or choice, yet it is obvious that Rose is coerced toward a life of criminality as she lacks the choice to reject Pinkie as a consequence of socio-economic conditions, and Robbie is betrayed by Briony because of her warped narrative and desire for order.
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