Ian Mcewan's Atonement: Barricading the Ladder

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Atonement: Barricading the Ladder
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Daryl Deebrah
ENG 4U1
Ms. C. Kivinen
Due: April 27th 2012

Atonement: Daryl Deebrah April 21/2012 Class conflict is not new. Complications between the classes have occurred many times throughout history and the theme has been explored numerous times different pieces of literature by a variety of authors. However, in Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, Atonement, he provides the reader with a unique perspective on class conflict. In Atonement, characters such as Emily and Briony Tallis, who represent the educated and elite upper social class, feel a special kinship to others in the same class and to the status itself. They are eager to protect this kinship from other characters such as Robbie Turner who belong to what they see as the unsophisticated, working, lower class. Threatened, the working class will arise to or surpass them in status, Emily, Briony, and other members of the upper social class commit crimes to subdue and suppress the lower working class, thus stopping them from climbing the social ladder any further. Ultimately, Ian McEwan reveals and proposes that the greedy and selfish attitudes of the upper classes along with their fear that their status may be ruined and intruded upon by outside members may be the root of class conflicts and complications. It is early on in Atonement we see McEwan’s first piece of evidence and hint towards this. Her planned dinner ruined and her twin nephews just run away from home, Emily Tallis’s troubled mind begins to linger on Robbie Turner and how he came to be in the position in her life. “She thought of Robbie at dinner when there had been something maniac and glazed in his look…But really, he was a hobby of Jack’s, living proof of some leveling principle he had pursued through the years…She had opposed Jack when he proposed paying for the boy’s education, which smacked of meddling to her, and unfair on Leon and the girls…Robbie’s elevation. ‘Nothing good will come of it’” (McEwan 151-152). From this simple quote, McEwan reveals several pieces of valuable information regarding Emily’s character. As Carolina Carlbom of Lund university finely states in her essay The Complexity of Class: “Emily see’s Robbie’s ambition as a threat to the order of things and does not like him being in a position equal to that of he own children. What she expresses confirms the class mentality of the 1930s” (Carlbom 4). Fearful that Robbie will arise to or surpass her kin in status and continue further to threaten and ruin the order of status, Emily opposes her husband’s decision to fund Robbie’s education to Cambridge-an education which will allow Robbie to further climb the social ladder and move in between class structures. It is only later in the book, when Cecilia separates herself from her family, that in one of her letters to Robbie, she reveals that Robbie’s conviction was a problem of class: “They turned on you, all of them, even my father…They chose to believe the evidence of a silly, hysterical little girl. In fact, they encouraged her by giving her no room to turn back…I can never forgive what they did. Now that I’ve broken away, I’m beginning to understand the snobbery that lay behind their stupidity. My mother never forgave you first. My father preferred to lose himself in his work. Leon turned out to be a grinning, spineless idiot who went along with everyone else. When Hardman decided to cover for Danny, no one in my family wanted the police to ask him the obvious questions. The police had to prosecute [you]. They didn’t want their case messed up” (McEwan 209). Carlbom says Cecilia “strongly believes that the reason Robbie Turner is accused and convicted for the rape of Lola is due to his challenging the class structure of his time. [Cecilia] is truly having a hard time understanding and forgiving the social protocols that made her family all turn upon...
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