“Like a policeman in a search team, we go on hands and knees and crawl toward the truth.”  What do you think is the truth that we have crawled toward as we read Atonement, and what secrets and lies have we encountered along the way? In your answer, you should discuss the novel’s key ideas, narrative point of view, characterization, symbolism, structure and language.
The beauty of Ian McEwan’s construction is his reconciliation of both fiction and the “bleakest realism”. The power of literature is the freedom it creates not only for the author to control and construct reality, but to offer freedom for the reader from the horrors of reality, where war destroys and the possibility to atone, to truly forgive and to have true empathy is extinct. The central preoccupation of Atonement is the Author-God’s ability to give us a higher truth we all “go on hands and knees and crawl towards”: the world as it should be. It is a liberating and limiting lie that only art can achieve.
Fiction’s ability to create reality for all of us mirrors the power of lies to create reality. The rape symbolically takes place by the “artificial island in an artificial lake”. This reference to man-made deceit brings to the foreground the idea that realities can be constructed. Briony lies about whom she sees and on a greater level fiction creates an artificial world. Nevertheless, we invest in this lie and insist on being the “certain kind of reader who will be compelled to ask, But what really happened?” and Briony gives us the lie that all novelists believe their obligation is, “the lovers survive and flourish”. Atonement revolves around the crime of the lie: “I saw him.” Human beings are susceptible to the lies of others because the power of the spoken word from the past can seriously change the future. McEwan illuminates the notion that the past doesn’t exist except as a collection of memories in our minds and our perspective that remains. The realities in...
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