A Researchable Aspect of Atonement

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Jefrin Palsetia
Professor Hoberman
Essay 2
2/19/2013
The Innocent Distortion of Reality
Ian McEwan in his novel “Atonement” gives his audience comprehensive and vivid descriptions of how his main character, Briony Tallis goes to immense heights to seek redemption for her sins and how she eventually fails. The third part of the novel tells us that it is Briony who is writing her life story with an ending which she originally pictured in her mind and not the real ending. In this life story she is attempting to achieve the forgiveness which she craves. McEwan has used various Architectural metaphors to notify the reader about the upcoming doom for which the sole reason was Briony herself. McEwan tells us that the Tallis household was originally an Adams style house which was burned down in the late 1880s and Briony’s grandfather had rebuilt it in Gothic style. Her grandfather was a common hardware merchant who was well off because of the patents he had claimed “on padlocks, bolts, latches and hasps” (18). It was a huge success because probably the people of London had an insight that some doom (World War I) was about to come or maybe just to keep their family safe enough from any external threats. And he, like the other common men, wanted the same too. Gothic houses fit into this description quite well because the main constituent of a Gothic house is its “sturdy framework of stout timbers” (Smith 39). McEwan does not deny the strength that the Tallis house holds, but has explicitly called it “ugly” in the book. This home is the mirror of the ugliness Briony is about to bring about in her sister’s life which is described in the latter part of the book. In this description of the house, he also tells us that this house, if sighted, would be “condemned by Pevsner or one of his team as a tragedy of wasted chances” (18). Sir Nikolaus Pevsner was a well renowned author of various art books including “Buildings of England.” He expressed his dislike towards certain buildings openly and was even quoted saying once: “Brutalism appears at its most brutish” at a building in the Hayward Gallery (Howard, 14). However, the phrase “wasted chances” can be co-related with Briony’s latter life incidences. After accusing Robbie, the son of their house’s charlady, of assaulting her cousin, Lola, Briony has an adequate opportunities to confess her folly but she refrains because she is an egoistic person who thought her “(family) would turn their backs on her” if she was to confess that she had not actually seen Robbie assault her cousin with her own eyes. This cowardice has such an impact that it makes everyone’s life, like it makes the Tallis house, “charmless to a fault” (18). In my opinion, giving the Tallis house the adjective of ugly was a bit of an understatement. The word “Gothic” itself creates a sense of diabolism. Omens, superstitions and chaos are some other qualities which stand out along with it. Gothic primarily describes a style of European architecture which flourished from the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries. Gothic architecture mainly consisted of pointed arches and vaults, flying buttresses, narrow spires, stained glass windows, intricate traceries (Melani). That upward movement that such architecture contained suggested some sort of heavenward aspiration. A common conclusion that such an image can lead to is “death.” Gothic was even synonymously used with the Medieval Ages or the Dark Age. It was called so because in this period, “no scientific accomplishments had been made, no great art produced, no great leaders born. The people of the Middle Ages had squandered the advancements of their predecessors”(The history channel). It was only because of “an upshot of interest in the Middle Ages, (that the) Gothic architecture experienced a revival in the late eighteenth century” (Melani). But the Tallis house was built in late 1880s; that was particularly the end of that era. Building a Gothic house more or...
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