Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement contains many obscure thematic elements. McEwan employs a number of themes found in some English romantic poems. For example, in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” a comparison is drawn to Briony’s novel that suggests that death is not the end of life. In Percy Bysshe Shelly’s “England in 1819,” the dying king compares to Briony in that they both live in shame, constantly seeking atonement. In Atonement, Ian McEwan creates themes that coincide with Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” and Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
According to Barbara Davis’ untitled review of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, “Robbie is a pivotal figure in this story, not only because of his destiny, so full of possibilities, will have changed dramatically by the day’s end. He is also Jack Taillis’s protégé, educated at Cambridge at the older man’s expense, and because of his stubborn belief in merit over class, Robbie takes his place in the Taillis family almost as an equal.” (Davis) Robbie’s character compares to Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” in that both themes are of a forbidden love. Keats’ writes of a bold lover who is not able to act upon his emotion, “Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare, Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, Though winning near the goal yet do not grieve; She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!” (Keats) The trees are symbolic of love, never can their leaves fall, and never can they die. Robbie’s love of Cecilia has been forbidden by Briony, intentionally or not. Even after their love for each other has been doused in the public eye, it lives on in their hearts. In the fifth stanza however, Keats is saying that pain is love, “When old age shall this generation waste, thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st, ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ that is all Ye know on earth,...
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