Atonement - the Unrealiable Narrator

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Atonement – Analytical Essay

Ian McEwan's ambitious and prize-winning novel, Atonement follows the actions of a young girl, Briony Tallis, who witnesses an event which she knows holds some kind of significance. Yet her limited understanding of adult motives leads her to co¬¬mmit a crime that will change the lives of everyone involved. As she grows older, she begins to understand her actions and the grief that has been caused. The entire novel is an attempt of reconciliation that Briony undertakes, yet the reader does not realize this until the closing twenty pages. As one begins to understand the implications of this revelation, the credibility of her story is considerably weakened. However, is the power of the story diminished by the shadow of a possibly unreliable narrator? In context of the novel, which is written as an atonement (the making of amends for a mistake or a sin), Briony would, perhaps, have a tendency to lie or, rather, avoid the truth in an attempt to disguise her responsibility for the crime and proceeding events and, more prominently, to satisfy her grieving and somewhat selfish conscience; one could even go so far as to say it is a confession and an impersonal account told to the memories of her deceased sister, Cecilia, and the wrongly accused, Robbie.

A certain question plagues Briony's mind throughout her life: "How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her" (P.350, Atonement). Briony knows that her atonement cannot be attained through writing a novel yet she still understands that her actions were wrong. Therefore, it is quite conceivable that her aim may not necessarily be to recount her story with absolute accuracy, rather, she is attempting to describe what happened from her perspective and feelings, using a third person narrator from the point of view of...
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