The novel Atonement


The novel Atonement written by British author Ian McEwan is a well crafted yet haunting novel which fixates on the idea that the truth can be seen in many forms. The novel exposes the reader to the issue that there is a clear distortion between reality and imagination, which can consequently alter ones perception of the truth. Atonement is a story about the mistakes a precocious, however naïve girl makes which drastically alters the lives of all her loved ones. Atonement foreshadows the idea that 'truth is partial and never absolute'

Briony is a thirteen year old girl who misinterprets a lot of what she witnesses. This is due to her lack of knowledge about sexuality and relationships. The reader is shown Briony's childishness when she misreads the love scene in the library between her older sister, Cecilia and their housekeeper's son, Robbie, as a form of assault. As Briony cannot fully comprehend what is happening, she uses her imagination to fill in the gaps that she cannot grasp. Briony is taking what should be the truth and altering it with her own imagination. The police and the remainder of the family use this diluted version of the truth to prosecute Robbie. This highlights the fact that what one sees and what one thinks they have seen, can be entirely opposing.

Briony is always seeking adventure, which she does through her imagination. She tries so hard to make her life appear more exhilarating that she fabricates her stories in order to enhance her excitement. She does this in her day to day life and she does it again when she witnesses her cousin, Lola getting sexual assaulted. The reader realises that truth is partial because people could easily change and modify the truth so that it is composed in the way they desire. McEwan leaves the reader questioning the reliability of most truths they have acquired.

It was not just Briony's lack of knowledge that influenced her in viewing the library scene as a form of abuse, it was emphasised by earlier incidents. With the combination of reading Robbie's unintended letter he wrote to Cecilia, which used provocative language and the scene at the fountain, Briony is fixed on her idea that Robbie is a 'sexual maniac'. This portrays the issue that prior information can alter ones perception of the truth. When Briony witnesses her cousin, Lola, getting sexually abused, she immediately thinks it is Robbie. Even though she has seen physical evidence of who the attacker was, she takes what she previously 'knew' to modify her decision. As a result the reader is exposed to the issue that earlier information acquired by a person can dilute the truth of what they have obtained.

The key reason why the truth can never be absolute is due to the fact that everyone is different. As humans are so diverse, everyone views the truth in a different manner. There are various factors altering how one views a situation, from their social backgrounds to their race to their character and how old they are. They all play a major part in how a person views the truth. The reader is shown this when McEwan exposes three different peoples point of view in one situation. When Cecilia jumps into the fountain half naked to retrieve a broken vase lid, the reader is shown this scene through Briony's, Cecilia's and Robbie's point of view. They each interpret this one event in vastly different ways. Briony first views this scene as a wedding proposal. However she later adjusts her mind into thinking it is some form of submission into Robbie's vile commands. On the contrary, Cecilia perceives her actions as her owning the power and control in the situation, by getting the vase out by herself. She however does not entirely recognize the emotions she is feeling, and just accepts them as anger and annoyance. Robbie realises his true feelings for Cecilia, which unfortunately leads to his arrest. This emphasises to the reader that everyone interprets situations differently. Each person believes that what they have seen is the truth, even though they are all so vastly different. It shows that the truth will always be inconsistent due to the fact that everyone views situations from a different approach. This scene alone reveals to the reader that 'truth is partial and never absolute' due to the fact that there will always be bias, modification and alterations to the truth. The reader must constantly question how reliable the truth is and where the truth is coming from.

The method in which the novel was constructed has influenced the way the reader views the truth. In the novel, Atonement, the reader cannot take what they have read as the truth. In the very last chapter, London 1999, the reader is astonished to discover that the whole of Part Three was created from Briony's imagination. When the reader first goes through Part Three, they are confident that everything they are reading is the truth. Once they discover that it was all fabricated from Briony, the reader is saddened and shocked. This reveals that one should not continually accept everything to be the truth. The reader starts to question the trustworthiness of the remainder of the novel, due to the fact that if part of the novel was fictional, what else was? If the whole novel was written by Briony, which was implied by the BT at the end of Part Three, then none of the novel can be taken as the absolute truth. One reason why is because Briony is not such a reliable source to begin with. She lied to her family as a child and she could do it again with her novel. She would also have had to use the love letters from the museum to create Part Two. This indicates that majority of novel was created from Briony's mind, revealing to the reader that once more Briony has created a fictional story out of some truths.

It is not just in novels that the reader must question the truths that are being presented. It is also in the media and in advertisements that the truths can be concealed. The novel Affluenza by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss reveals to the reader how cunning advertisements can be in influencing the way the audience views the truth. A presenter from Play School was filmed 'informing young viewers that Coco Pops contains no artificial colours and are a good source of calcium, iron and vitamins B1 and B2.' (pg 50) The audience hears all these notable ingredients and believes that the cereal is beneficial for their family. However the advertisers were clever to not mention the quantity of sugar in the cereal. This is a skilful technique to elude from breaking the advertisers' code, which indicates that all nutritional value must be accurate, but still allows their cereal to appear nutritious. This reveals to the audience that even though there are codes to prevent the truth from begin altered, the truth can still be hidden. If part of the truth is unknown, then the truth will never be absolute. This is due to the fact that the audience will never know the whole truth and that part of the truth that is hidden, could completely transform the existing truth. The audience is shown that the truth must be acknowledged entirely in order for it to be accountable. It is extremely unlikely to be able to know the truth perfectly, which is why the truth will always be partial and never absolute.

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