Atonement By Ian McEwan | Summary

3518 words (14 pages) Essay in English Literature

18/05/17 English Literature Reference this

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The fourth novel that I chose was Atonement by Ian McEwan. In the introduction, a young girl name Briony is producing a play to put on for her brother. Briony’s mother, sister, and three cousins are introduced as well as a family friend and employee Robbie Turner. Throughout the day Briony’s attempts to put the play together fail, and she eventually gives up on the endeavor. She witnesses an interesting encounter between Robbie and her sister Cecelia that complicates the adults’ relationship and moves the plot forward.

2. Rising Action

After the relationship between Robbie and Cecelia, and the curious and scheming nature of Briony, is established, chaos ensues. Briony intercepts an intimate letter from Robbie to Cecelia, and from then on thinks that he is crazy and wants to hurt her sister. To make matters worse, she witnesses them in a position that to her, looks like he attacked Cecelia. On a hunt for two of the cousins that ran away, someone rapes the eldest cousin. Briony finds the victim first and immediately assigns the blame to Robbie. Robbie and Cecelia are thus torn apart through the rest of the book, while Robbie gets sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit and then off to war. The book follows the two lovers and their letters to each other. It describes their brief meetings and their estrangement to Cecelia’s family following the betrayal.

3. Climax

The climax of this book is when Briony goes to see her sister after the many years of conflict. Briony goes to see Cecelia without knowing whether Robbie is dead or alive, or if they have seen each other since he went to war. During their meeting the reader finds out that Robbie and Cecelia are living in her apartment and are finally together again.

4. Falling Action

After the dramatic moments of Briony and Robbie’s meeting, the book slows down. Robbie and Cecelia make their demands of Briony and the rest of the family to make atonement. The rapist from the beginning is revealed, and their lives at that time are resolved.

5. Resolution

In the resolution, Briony goes back to her family’s estate many years later for her birthday. Some young relatives put on her old play for her at the birthday party. In the last chapter of the book, you find out that the previous chapters are the pages of Briony’s book, her final atonement, and that the ending where Robbie and Cecelia end up together isn’t what really happened. Robbie and Cecelia both died in the war in the same year, and Briony never confronted them.

Reader Response Journal #6

Describe your reading of “The Wife’s Tale.” Was this story confusing? Were you surprised by how it ended? What phrases or sentences did the author use as clues to help you understand the story and its plot twists? Was this a good story? Why or why not?

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At first, I thought that this story was confusing. I assumed at the beginning that they were already human, so when the husband started getting bigger the fear in the other characters didn’t make sense. Then the wife described all of the hair coming off as he grew and that didn’t make sense either, unless he was a very hairy man. The wife used various clues though to help me understand what was happening. She specified that he stood up on two legs, which would be insignificant if he were human before, and then she started howling, which kind of gave her away, as well as the snapping at the branch. Also before that the story said that the change only happens in the dark of the moon, which is significant of a type of curse or werewolf. She also talked about her sister’s mane, and described her community as a pack. I had a feeling that the husband eventually died just from the context at the beginning, but it seemed a little sad when I read the ending that he died. I thought this was a good story because of the twist and because it made me reread to figure out what was going on. It definitely keeps your attention, but the ending is sad and kind of gross and typically I don’t like endings like that.

Reader Response Journal #7

Describe one or two of the themes in “The Growin’ of Paul Bunyan.” Use examples from the story to show how the author presented these themes.

One of the themes that I got out of the story is the need for people to sympathize with each other. When overcoming differences or conflicts in life, trying to view things from the other person’s standpoint is invaluable. In the story, Paul Bunyan assumes several things about Johnny Appleseed; one of them being that Johnny had challenged him. The author showed that by assuming, he did more harm than good. The affect that Paul Bunyan’s actions had on Johnny is expressed when Johnny said, “All the rest o’ my dreams is so much kindlin’ wood, so why don’t you take this an’ see if it’s so easy to make it grow.” Only when Johnny challenged Paul Bunyan to grow a tree did he finally value the hard work and effort that Johnny had put into growing all of the other trees that he cut down. The author shows this when Paul Bunyan’s tree dies and you see how much it affected him; he yelled, “Johnny! Johnny! Why didn’t you tell me how much it could hurt?” Now that Paul Bunyan had experienced what Johnny went through, when he saw that Johnny had turned his axe into a giant tree, he appreciated the creation and he never cut down another tree again. If we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes when trying to solve a problem, overcoming it becomes easier and many potential trials are avoided in the process. I think that is one of the themes in the story.

The Growin’ of Paul Bunyan

“The Growin’ of Paul Bunyan” obviously has some very powerful themes. This assignment will help you work through the story, its characters, and its messages.

In the Venn diagram below, describe the differences and similarities between Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. Put the differences in the areas of the circles that don’t overlap and the similarities in the area where they do overlap.

Work hard

Good at what they do.

Like Trees

Likes a Challenge

Is Impulsive

Likes to cut down trees

Thinks Ahead

Is Non-confrontational

Likes to grow trees

In the chart below, describe the physical characteristics of both Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. (You must include at least five things about each character.)

EMBED Word.Picture.8

When Paul thinks he’s “won” the contest with Johnny, why is he so disappointed with Johnny’s reaction?

Paul gets upset because he wants Johnny to admit that he won the challenge and that he’s stronger than Johnny. He thinks that growing them is as easy as cutting them down, thus he won the contest.

Describe four things Paul does to help this little seed grow.

a. Paul runs back and forth 200 miles to carry water in his hands for the tree.

b. He moves the rabbits away from the tree and carries many of them to the stream with him so they won’t get the seed.

c. He protects it from the cold by covering it with his hands and breathing on it.

d. He shields it from the sun during the day.

What happens to Paul’s ax?

Johnny turns it into a giant evergreen tree.

What do you think is the meaning of the title, “The Growin’ of Paul Bunyan”?

I think that the title is symbolic of Paul Bunyan’s dynamic change that he makes in the story. It is used not only in the sense that Paul Bunyan grows something, but that he grows himself. He becomes a better person after he learns a lesson from Johnny Appleseed.

Do you think that this title gives the readers clues about the themes of the story? If so, how?

The title of the story allows the reader to make inferences about what the theme of the story is. The fact that Paul Bunyan is already huge and couldn’t grow much bigger physically implies that it is a different kind of growth. You could infer that the play on words suggests that the theme is that physical strength or size is not what is important, but it is the size of the inner person.

How do you think a person who relies on the lumber industry for a living would respond to “The Growin’ of Paul Bunyan”? Why?

I think that there are certain parts of the story that they’d agree with, and certain parts that would seem unreasonable to them. It’s easy to agree with Paul Bunyan when he said that without logging people wouldn’t have houses and many other materials that people use every day. But there is a reality to what Johnny Appleseed said about eventually not having any more trees to cut down. I don’t think that the story was so much against logging as it was against cutting trees down for fun or to prove something.

What do you think is the main theme of this story?

I think that the main theme of the story is that it isn’t physical strength that makes someone better than another, but that the most important thing is a person’s inner qualities and their ability to grown and improve.

What clues in the story helped you determine this theme?

The last sentence in the story helped me to determine the theme. It explained what Paul Bunyan learned from the whole experience: “A little man who chops somethin’ down is still just a little man, but there’s nobody bigger than a man who learns to grow.” Johnny showed that growing on the inside counts for more than physical strength by saying, “It’s always easier to chop somethin’ down than to make it grow.”

11. Are there any minor themes that you noticed in the story?

I noticed several minor themes throughout the story, such as: Having a talent doesn’t make you a hard worker or a good person. To solve problems you have to see things from other people’s perspective. Sometimes we take things for granted until they’re gone.

Theme Paper #1

By Kelsey Davis

One of the six novels that I read was The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It is 229 pages and takes place in the late 1800’s in London. One of the major themes in this book is: the pursuit of pleasures and beauty does not result in a successful and happy life. This novel is about a beautiful young man, Dorian Gray, who becomes friends with two men: Basil Hallward, an artist, and Lord Henry Wotton.

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Basil becomes infatuated with Dorian upon seeing him for the first time, feeling that Dorian Gray will forever change his art and become his muse. Dorian has a similar effect on Lord Henry, who immediately claims Dorian as a lifelong friend. Lord Henry and his opinions and philosophies on living life fascinate Dorian; and when Basil paints a portrait of him, he, like Narcissus, falls in love with his own beauty. Under the leadership of Lord Henry, and the giving of his soul for eternal youth and beauty, he lives a selfish and debauched life, creating the theme for this story.

Throughout this novel, there is much dialogue between Lord Henry and Dorian. The discussions that they have and how these affect Dorian establish a consistent theme throughout the book. Lord Henry continually gives Dorian the twisted advice to pursue the fulfillment of one’s senses and to satisfy every whim. During their first meeting, Lord Henry says such things as: “Youth is the one thing worth having.” “Be always searching for new sensations.” “But we never get back our youth . . . we degenerate into hideous puppets haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to.” In response to this guidance, Dorian becomes less and less sensitive to others and more and more self-concerned and evil. He retains his beauty and youth while Basil’s portrait ages and becomes corrupt, bearing the sins of his soul.

During the next twenty years, Dorian’s reputation gets worse, and his relations with others become scandal. Basil confronts Dorian about the things he’s done and encourages him to change. After revealing the dreadful secret of his youthfulness, Dorian murders Basil. The sequence of events after Basil’s death reveal Dorian’s unhappiness and his dissatisfaction with the way his life has turned out. He tries to convince himself that he can change, but realizes, with the help of Lord Henry, that he can’t and that his attempts would be out of vanity. He thus arrives at one conclusion: destroy the painting that had destroyed him and be rid of his last piece of conscience. As he does so the ugliness and age of the portrait go to where they belonged all along: to the living Dorian. Corrupt, ugly, and alone, Dorian kills himself.

In this Hedonistic novel, Oscar Wilde shows how relying on superficial qualities leads to unhappiness. Dorian’s regrets are clear when he says, “There is no one with whom I would not change places, . . . The wretched peasant who has just died is better off than I am.” From personal experience, trying to pursue every sensation to the full may create a temporary happiness, but it is void of true fulfillment and satisfaction. Even in small actions, seeking self-gratification repels others and spoils good qualities.

Theme Paper #2

By Kelsey Davis

The fourth book that I read was Atonement by Ian McEwan, which is 351 pages. A major theme that I think the author was trying to get across is the gravity and significance of our actions. Atonement is about the consequences that came from a little girl’s accusation. One of the main characters, Briony, blames her sister’s boyfriend for a terrible crime. Though she was a young girl and was relatively sincere in her accusation, she made a decision that affected the future of her family, and most importantly the accused.

The novel follows the lives of three characters, Briony, Robbie (the accused), and her sister Cecelia. After Robbie gets accused of raping Briony’s cousin, he gets sent to prison and then to war. Through the years, the love and relationship between Cecelia and Robbie is strained from their separation. Their intense pain and alienation from their family is described in the book vividly. The misery that Robbie goes through starts in chapter fifteen, which begins, “There were horrors enough, but it was the unexpected detail that threw him and afterward would not let him go.” Robbie later recalls the events “before prison, before the war, before the sight of a corpse became a banality,” and dreams of a future when “he and Cecelia would no longer be isolated.”

In the book, Cecelia and Robbie are both killed in the war before they are able to fully reunite. In the last chapter, Briony is an old woman. She has written a book about her story, about Robbie and Cecelia, and offers it as her final atonement. In her book, she rewrites the ending of the lovers’ tale, so that they end up together and she is able to make her peace with them. Obviously from the way she wrote her book, she was never able to confront Robbie or Cecelia and thus somewhat absolve her guilt. She calls herself a coward for being unable to confront her sister after Robbie’s death. Her regrets are expressed at the end of the novel when she explains that in her lifetime she hasn’t traveled very far. She says, “Or rather, I’ve made a huge digression and doubled back to my starting place.”

In the end, Briony can never be forgiven, and she takes her guilt with her to the grave. Her actions, even as a child, were very costly. She had to live with the fact that what happened to Robbie and Cecelia was because of her childish assumptions and her lies. I think this is the strongest theme of the book: that that we are all responsible for our actions, and, if our actions are bad, no one can take the blame or absolve the guilt for what we do but us. Anyone who has a healthy conscience knows that the bad things we do, intentional or not, are the hardest to forget. However unnatural and painful that is, it is the truth. Ian McEwan reminds his readers that our past and our decisions make us who we are.

Theme Paper #3

By Kelsey Davis

The book that I chose for my sixth reading was A Farewell to Arms, a 332-page book by Earnest Hemingway. This novel is semi-autobiographical and tells the story of an American ambulance driver in the Italian army during WWI, Lieutenant Henry. This story contains a lot of dialogue, so a prominent theme can be hard to interpret. However, the philosophy of life that Henry has throughout the story develops into its own theme. Through his beliefs and actions, Lieutenant Henry establishes a philosophy: life has no order, and no ultimate purpose. You have to make the most of it using your own personal values and find your own meaning. This is a major theme of the book.

Henry’s approach to life can be seen in his interactions with his friends and lovers. Also in his opinions of the war and of religion you can see evidence of his philosophy. Several times in the beginning chapters Henry shows his tendency towards instant gratification. When he takes his leave in chapter three, instead of taking a healthy vacation, he spends his days and nights drunk and in the company of prostitutes. In the beginning of his relationship with a nurse he states, “I did not care what I was getting into . . .. I knew I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards . . .. Nobody had mentioned what the stakes were. It was all right with me.” Henry didn’t have a total lack of integrity or morality in the book; this is shown by his loyalty to Catherine and his care for the priest, Rinaldi, and the soldiers beneath him. In many instances though, he showed that he didn’t care about or consider outcomes. His drinking, for example, eventually resulted in jaundice but he didn’t decrease his habit much.

Henry didn’t believe in a God, in an established order, or in ensured justice. The tragic events in Henry’s life reaffirm his convictions of the hostility of life and strengthen endurance when under trial. He establishes his own order by sticking to courage and love. When he faces death from his own army, he escapes and flees to Switzerland with Catherine where they find happiness within each other. In the book, the war and Catherine’s death help to shape Henry’s attitude towards life, and thus, the theme.

Parts of Henry’s philosophy I agree with. I admire his endurance, and his value of life, especially in light of the fact that he felt no higher meaning or purpose. I like that when he fell in love with Catherine, though he still cared for his responsibilities, he always did what made them both happy. I pity Henry though. Catherine was the only thing that made him truly happy; he couldn’t be happy and find purpose on his own. Once she died he was alone, left with the same unordered universe he had before. All the meaning he found in life was in things that could be taken away from him. In the end, what sense of hope does that leave?

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