Themes Of Love, Truth And Memory In Ian Mcewan’s Atonement

Ian McEwan published Atonement in 2001 as a romantic war metafiction. The story follows the lives Cecilia Tallis (the protagonist) and Robbie Turner (the antagonist). They experience conflict due to their inability to realize their eternal love dreams. McEwan confronts themes such as love and truth throughout the book with stylistic features like reliability, irony, focalisation, and reliability. This allows the reader to get a deeper understanding of the thoughts of the main characters and gives them a better perspective on their motivations and actions. Through the use of first- and third-person perspectives, Atonement engages readers. It allows for the exploration of themes such as truth and memory via reliability and focalisation. Chapter 6 is an example. Cecilia, Emily Tallis’ mother, is reminiscing over her children’s lives in the third person. However, focalisation allows the audience to see Emily’s thoughts and gives them insight. This allows readers to recognize some of her thought processes as distortions of truth. Emily, for example, believes she has a sixth or tentacular sense that allows her to see through the darkened walls of the house. In the end, however her presumptive surety is false. Briony falsely accuses Robbie of rape. This scene is a clear example. This mistake proves Emily’s naivety in believing she is “all-knowing” and is actually evidence of her distortion of reality. Evidence further shows Emily to be an unreliable Narrator. Emily’s story is vastly different to the stories of other characters who are more reliable, like Cecilia. Cecilia knows Robbie was wrongly charged, and is innocent. The particular language she used to focus her thoughts is another sign that Emily is not reliable. The scene displays an arrogant tone. This almost narcissistic sense is of superiority, suggesting that she believes that she knows everything. McEwan explores love by using irony and focusing on these characters and their situations. These ironic passages are particularly prominent in the novel’s arguments and dialogues. Briony, for instance, visits Cecilia, her sister, to apologize for her sins. Cecilia replies that she doesn’t expect her to forgive her. This is ironic because both her statements contradict one another. It also shows Cecilia’s attitude towards the topic between the characters. The conflict and interactions allow the reader to see and understand Cecilia’s bitterness stemming out of Briony’s impulsive actions that led to her separation from Robbie. It is also possible to see that Cecilia values Robbie’s love above all else. Celia’s personality is revealed and the audience can sympathize with her love for Robbie, as well as loathing Robbie’s Machiavellian schemes. Briony’s thoughts on Lola …. are another example of irony in the final section of the novel. The last part of the novel contains another example of irony. Briony shares her thoughts on Lola and Paul Marshall. These statements actually add to Briony’s delusional thinking, especially in the area of social relationships. Briony was well aware that Paul Marshall could use the power of his position to exterminate Lola’s lives if Lola had raped Paul Marshall. Briony’s choice in words – “poor vain & vulnerable” – to describe someone hated implies that the meaning of the utterance isn’t literal, the contradiction. The irony of Lola’s marriage to Paul allows the audience to see a distorted version love. This then serves as a vehicle for highlighting Robbie and Cecilia’s pure love. This technique makes Robbie and Cecilia more sympathetic to each other, since the’real rape victim’ and the criminal have left the scene and live in their salad days. Briony gets more hate.

Ian McEwan’s Atonement conveys the themes love, truth, and memory. By using Emily Tallis as a foil, reliability was made possible to convey the themes Truth and Memory with great efficacy. McEwan also used humor to illustrate different forms of love. Every day brings us to unpalatable truths. McEwan aims to change our attitudes and values by challenging us to face some of the unpalatable truths about humanity. He encourages us all to look at our moral compass through the subjective lenses of truth, love, and memory.


  • davidwong

    David Wong is a 29-year-old educator and blogger who focuses on helping students learn in creative and interesting ways. He has a background in teaching and has been blogging since 2006. David's work has been featured on a variety of websites, including Lifehack, Dumb Little Man, and The Huffington Post.