A Sense Of Desperation In Atonement

908 words - 4 pages

How does McEwan capture a sense of desperation in Part 2 of
Atonement?

The title ‘Atonement’ hints at a dark secret, a need for retribution
and weighty themes, which McEwan duly delivers. The desperation in the
narrative format of Robbie the soldier is paralleled by Briony’s
increasing desperation to obtain penance for her crime. It is a desire
further complicated by her omnipotent narrative role; McEwan steps in
and out of his characters' minds with unfettered confidence and in
Part 2 he provides Briony with the same gift so that she might assume
the mind of Robbie. This can therefore provide her with only a
fabricated atonement, of which she is subconsciously aware will never
fully purge her of her sin. Briony says that "it isn't weakness or
evasion, but a final act of kindness, a stand against oblivion and
despair, to let my lovers live and to unite them at the end."

The second half of the story opens as Robbie, is released from jail
only to land himself in the British Army retreating toward Dunkirk.
Along with Robbie's terror and his desperation to return to the woman
he loves Briony, now a nurse, has realised the true nature of her
error, and she greatly wishes to reverse her actions and Part 2
follows her crime's repercussions through the chaos and carnage of
World War II. The emotional trauma of the war and the wounded is
developed in a manner that allows us to feel the anguish and despair
of those fighting for their country. We feel the futility of war and
the assault on the physical and emotional fronts of Robbie, Cecilia
and even Briony. The gory intricacies of war which Robbie is
experiencing are emphasised by his constant flashbacks to a golden
past; where on that oppressively sweltering night, in the library, he
and Cecilia awakened their sexual awareness and the vagaries of
maturity.

McEwan pretends to change the narrator to Robbie in his account of the
war in Part 2, but on a second reading it becomes evident that Briony
is still the narrator and the creator of such an account. This does
not devalue Robbie’s desperation to be removed from the war and be
reunited with Cecilia, sentiments which he would undoubtedly have
felt, but significantly it displays (in her all too poetic manner)
Briony’s desperation for retribution. The tone in which ‘Robbie’ gives
his account of the horrors which “would not let him go” is one of
desperation and exclamation but also ambiguity; it is not just the war
which haunts him but his arrest and subsequent jail term too and it
also hints at the horrors of Briony’s crime which will not let her go
either.

Robbie’s sole reason for living is Cecilia and it the memories of her
which constantly drive him to fight for his survival: “This is why he
had to survive…. he had one good reason to survive”. The torment until
he can see...

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