Atonement by Ian Mcewan Analysis
How does Briony’s deceptive character and need for attention and control play a role in her maturity and influence on the lives of others? -That afternoon, without stirring from her daybed, Emily had guessed that Lola was undermining Briony’s play, a suspicion confirmed by the diagonally ripped poster on the easel. And just as she predicted, Briony had been outside somewhere, sulking and impossible to find. How like Hermione Lola was, to remain guiltless while others destroyed themselves at her prompting (McEwan 138). Like Briony, Emily completely misinterprets a situation, and as always, views Briony as completely innocent.
This is not unlikely, as the household revolved around Briony, and she could do little wrong. Emily, her mother, adored her innocence and wanted so badly to preserve it. Her tainted view of her own daughter goes to show how deceiving Briony’s character truly was. She appeared innocent to everyone, but in reality she was far from sweet and pure. Most of Emily’s assumptions are proven correct throughout the book, as she is unbelievably able to decipher the situations happening around her with her special sixth sense.
She could usually sense her surroundings “without stirring from her daybed. In this one case though, Emily is ironically wrong, because if anything, Briony, not Lola, should have reminded her of her attention-seeking sister, Hermione. Briony quit the play because she lost all control and couldn’t bare to see other people get the attention she had wanted. Lola, having received the main part in the play, annoyed Briony and gave her the feeling that she could not grasp enough of the control, and could no longer continue on in portraying her story through other people. She feared that they may skew her thoughts, thus straying from the order Briony had wanted.
It was not Lola who ripped the poster either, and Briony was not sulking because of anything Lola or anyone had done to her. Briony was upset and ran off from the play because she could no longer manage her production and had little patience in dealing with other people’s thoughts or opinions. The fact that Emily had “guessed” and “predicted” creates this sense that reality may very well be different from what it appears to be. Emily felt that Lola was “destroying” Briony in some way, meanwhile the destruction Briony would cause later on would supersede all destruction.
This idea that Briony had the power to control the thoughts and opinions of those around her through her innocent, girl-like nature, explains the reasoning as to why everyone had developed a trust in her.
Briony’s complexity and deceptiveness has drastic effects on several characters throughout the book, who are unable to see her true personality clearly. -But it was not so, because her mother was endlessly kind and sweet and good. Looking at her sitting alone, late at night, was sad, but pleasantly so. Briony indulged herself by looking through the window in a spirit of farewell.
Her mother was forty-six, dispiritingly old. One day she would die.
There would be a funeral in the village at which Briony’s dignified reticence would hint at the vastness of her sorrow. As her friends came up to murmur their condolences they would feel awed by the scale of her tragedy. She saw herself standing alone in a great arena, within a towering coliseum. Watched not only by all the people she knew but by all those she would ever know, the whole cast of her life, assembled to love her in her loss (McEwan 151). This passage merely portrays Briony’s deep imagination and desire to be the center of attention.
Briony is imagining what her mother’s death and funeral will be like for her, regardless of the fact that her mother is not yet fifty years old.
Briony imagines the attention she might receive and begins to “indulge” herself in this idea that she would someday receive sympathy and compassion from everyone she knows. Briony already casts herself as a character in the moment, acting with a “dignified reticence that would hint at the vastness of her sorrow. ” Until her mother is actually dead, it is impossible for Briony to know how she will feel, unless she stages her feelings, as she imagines.
Having this reticence will simply spark even more compassion and make her seem even more desperate for sympathy and attention. She sees herself “standing alone in a great arena,” as the center of attention, whom everyone showers praises and sympathies upon.
Briony pictures everyone she knows coming to comfort her, “assembled to love her in her loss. ” She describes these people as “the whole cast of her life,” as if her entire life is a production, to be planned ahead of time. Not once, in her daydream does Briony think of the actual loss of her mother or the effects it may have on others.
She only thinks about herself and the way in which people will treat her when she losses her mother. In Briony’s mind, the people do not come to pay respects to her mother, but only to comfort her and revolve their thoughts and compassion around no one but Briony.
She feels as if her audience will “feel awed by the scale of her tragedy. ” Briony thinks about this provoking of awe before anything else because she has such a deep need to control the emotions of those around her. Even something as abstract as her mother’s future death and funeral could be staged in Briony’s head, because she needed to have this control ahead of time.
This was the only way in which she could ensure that the attention would remain on only her, regardless of the situation. -She may have been about to speak, she may have been about to embark upon a long confession in which she would find her feelings as she spoke them and lead herself out of her numbness toward something that resembled both terror and joy. Turning away may well have been not a distancing, but an act of intimacy, a way of gathering herself to begin to speak her feelings to the only person she thought, so far from home, she could trust herself to talk to.
Perhaps she had already drawn her breath and parted her lips.
But it did not matter because Briony was about to cut her off and the opportunity would be lost. So many seconds passed—thirty? Forty-five? —and the younger girl could no longer hold herself back. Everything connected. It was her own discovery. It was her story, the one that was writing itself around her (McEwan 156).
At this moment, Briony finds Lola in distress, yet still can only think of her future story, portraying her selfish desire to control everything around her. This passage, has a tone of anticipation and loss, as Lola is about to speak, but is shut down by Briony’s more important idea or opinion.
The anaphora of “may have been” gives this idea that a lot could have been said by Lola that may have changed the situation to come. This opportunity was lost because of Briony’s need to speak for everyone. She should have waited for Lola’s story before jumping to conclusions, but of course, because of Briony’s controlling character, Lola’s story may actually never be heard. Briony feels as if she can speak for everyone because she is all-knowing, which goes back to the idea of her being god-like and omnipotent.
Briony saw herself as this god-like figure, who knew better than everyone else, hich explains her willingness to jump to conclusions. As she finds Lola, and watches the man walk away, she feels as if “everything connected” and there was no doubt that the man was Robbie. Briony is always seeking these connections because of her desire to write stories. She is actually using her imagination to fill in the blanks, when in reality she knows very little. Briony feels as if she has matured, but this child-like game of assuming information and creating stories shows how immature she really is.
She takes pride in the fact that it was her “own discovery. She wanted nothing but to receive the credit for finding the man who harmed her cousin. It was “her story,” even though she had no part in it. The story literally was “writing itself around her,” as she remained the controller who could imagine any story to be true. This idea of the story revolving around her further conveys this sense that Briony is seeking attention and will subconsciously do anything to receive the credit she desires.
Her mind becomes so focused on her story and need to control real-life occurrences, that she completely loses touch with reality, and destroys any sense of truth.