Atonement - Major Themes

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ATONEMENT Major Themes Guilt / Atonement The theme of guilt, forgiveness, and atonement should be extremely obvious to anyone who reads the book. The entire plot of the novel centers on a woman who devotes her entire life repenting a crime she committed while still a young girl. Articles of note that are not as obvious to the reader that have to do with this theme are things like, is Briony the only person who should feel guilty? Who else is at fault for the crime committed on that hot summer night in 1935? Where is Lola’s guilt for not saying anything?

What about Paul Marshall’s–the real assailant who gets away with rape and stands silent while an innocent man goes to prison.

Then there are all the adults in Part One of the novel. How is it that so many people who are capable of understanding so much more than a thirteen-year-old girl come to rely completely on her testimony? Should more not have been done in the investigation? The question is left open at the end of the book.

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Does Briony finally achieve her atonement by writing her story and keeping her lovers and allowing their love to survive?

The second layer to the guilt theme has to do with the history of literature. Aside from the crime she committed as a child, Briony feels guilty for her powers as a writer. She knows she has the autonomy to write whatever story she so chooses. Just like she could send Robbie to prison, she can make him survive the war.

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The reliance readers put in Briony to tell them “what really happened” leaves her feeling guilty about her life’s work, and she projects that guilt onto the history of the English literature canon. A world could be made in five pages, and one that was more pleasing than a model farm. The childhood of a spoiled prince could be framed within half a page, a moonlit dash through sleepy villages was one rhythmically emphatic sentence, falling in love could be achieved in a single word–a glance. The pages of a recently finished story seemed to vibrate in her hand with all the life they contained. ” Narration, Page 7 A major theme to Atonement, if not ‘the’ major theme, is the power of writing nd a forensic look into the history of the literary tradition. A secondary theme, but one that is just as prominent, is the loos of innocence and the transposition from childhood into the adult world. This quote in the opening pages of the novel marries those two themes with precision and brevity. Briony, because of her passion for writing, is aware even as a child of the power one has with the pen. Even at the age of thirteen, Briony can “make” a world in as little as “five pages. More importantly, she understands that as the writer, she has complete autonomy to “spoil” lives and restore “love. ” Not only does the child Briony understand this capacity over her characters, it excited her–the story literally “vibrates” in her hand. What Briony is too young at this point to understand, is the difference between fictionally invented plots and characters and reality. Ian McEwan’s ambitious and prize-winning novel, Atonement follows the actions of a young girl, Briony Tallis, who witnesses an event which she knows holds some kind of significance.

Yet her limited understanding of adult motives leads her to co¬¬mmit a crime that will change the lives of everyone involved. As she grows older, she begins to understand her actions and the grief that has been caused. The entire novel is an attempt of reconciliation that Briony undertakes, yet the reader does not realize this until the closing twenty pages. As one begins to understand the implications of this revelation, the credibility of her story is considerably weakened. However, is the power of the story diminished by the shadow of a possibly unreliable narrator?

In context of the novel, which is written as an atonement (the making of amends for a mistake or a sin), Briony would, perhaps, have a tendency to lie or, rather, avoid the truth in an attempt to disguise her responsibility for the crime and proceeding events and, more prominently, to satisfy her grieving and somewhat selfish conscience; one could even go so far as to say it is a confession and an impersonal account told to the memories of her deceased sister, Cecilia, and the wrongly accused, Robbie.

A certain question plagues Briony’s mind throughout her life: “How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her” (P. 350, Atonement). Briony knows that her atonement cannot be attained through writing a novel yet she still understands that her actions were wrong.

Therefore, it is quite conceivable that her aim may not necessarily be to recount her story with absolute accuracy, rather, she is attempting to describe what happened from her perspective and feelings, using a third person narrator from the point of view of What is most distinctive about The Buddha of Suburbia is the voice of its narrator. Karim Amir tells his own story of teenage misdemeanours in the south London suburbs, and of his later adventures when he decamps to the big city. “An Englishman born and bred, almost,” his narration is true to the inbetween-ness of his origins and experience.

His voice is both demotic and educated, one thing and another. Being suburban and not white – “truly I was more beige than anything” – he sees the working class from a suspicious distance. Being young and disrespectful, he is practised at disparaging bourgeois pretensions. Kureishi makes him eloquent enough to rise to any satirical occasion (he is allowed to be studying English A-level for a while), but never lets him become a writer rather than a speaker. Kureishi gives his narrator the redundant clauses that keep us in mind of a person speaking to us: “I can tell you”, “I bet”, “I reckon”.

He throws in chatty exclamations at the absurdity of what he records – “for God’s sake” is one of his favourites. In the novel’s early chapters, the mingled carelessness and earnestness of the teenager are caught in Karim’s habit of hyperbole. When his beautiful and irreproachably cool school friend Charlie advises him to ditch his headband and scarlet waistcoat in favour of Levis with an open-necked shirt, Karim privately vows utter obedience. “I would never go out in anything else for the rest of my life. ” For sometimes, only exaggeration will do.

As he surveys the extraordinary scene in the front room of Eva Kay’s house in Beckenham – four cross-legged middle-aged couples discussing music and books to a background of recorded chanting – his verdict tries to be true to the memorable absurdity of the gathering. “There was a terrific amount of showing off going on – more in this room than in the whole of the rest of southern England put together. ” Karim has as extended a vocabulary as any of the would-be bohemians or theatre-folk he meets. Yet he likes to efuse to be too articulate, tacking “or something” on to the end of a sentence or embracing a cliche when his prose has taken a literary turn. He tells us how the daunting and alluring Jamila became a teenage fan of risque French literature (“Baudelaire and Colette and Radiguet and all that rude lot”) before deciding to model herself on Simone de Beauvoir, and meeting him fortnightly for sex, usually en plein air. “Those books must have been dynamite or something, because we even did it in public toilets. ” Literature can be a real education. He also swears a good deal. Naughty boy, bad language,” says Auntie Jeeta when the refusal of the police to acknowledge that her shop has been attacked by local fascists leads him to exclaim “Bollocks”. He apologises, but he swears plentifully in his narration. What else would you say when you have been sexually assaulted by the Great Dane belonging to the furiously racist father of a prospective girlfriend, your best jacket soiled by “dog jissom”. “I was fucking bad-tempered when I finally pedalled up Jean’s front path. ” “Bad language” and elevated diction often consort together.

When Charlie forms a rock band (“Mustn’t Grumble”), his efforts at composition deserve just this mixture. “Under the full moon of high expectation, Charlie laboured to wrench a fragment of beauty from his soul. ” Karim, rival as well as friend, is relieved to note the futility of all these aspirations. “The songs were still shit. ” There is plenty of evidence that Kureishi began as a playwright (and not just in the knowing mockery of theatrical narcissism, rehearsal room pretensions and the postures of “scented and parading first-nighters”).

In the presentation of character, speech takes precedence over description. Karim knows that he thinks as if he were speaking. At one telling moment he quotes something he said, only to change his mind. “Or perhaps I didn’t say it; perhaps I just thought it. ” So speech-like are his thoughts: “Sometimes you can’t tell when you’ve said something or just had it in your head”. The narrator’s voice is at once confidential and wittily superficial. “I’m probably not compassionate or anything,” he tells us, slipping into calculated colloquialism again. “I bet I’m a real bastard inside. On the novel’s first page Karim muses a little on the possible reasons for his susceptibility to boredom and restlessness, before quickly giving up any real self-examination. “Anyway, why search the inner room when it’s enough to say I was looking for trouble. ” It is a characteristic sentence, the colloquial shrug (“Anyway … “) and mock-dramatic cliche (“looking for trouble”) bracketing a buried reference to Montaigne. (The great Renaissance essayist wrote of every person having an arriere boutique – an inner room behind the shop, which the public could not enter. You can see everywhere the evidence that Karim has read books, but he is hardly going to admit it. The comedy of the novel relies on the narrator’s determination to stay on the surface of things – to combine candour with caricature. “Perhaps in the future I would live more deeply,” he says with comic solemnity as the novel ends. But that is not for now. The protagonists of both When We Were Orphans and The Buddha of Suburbia grow up either wholly or partly in a society where a culture different to their own is dominant.

It is not surprising that Ishiguro and Kureishi should create such characters, as they themselves would be familiar with experiences related to holding such a position in society. Lewis suggests that Ishiguro’s home is ‘a halfway house, neither Japanese nor English, somewhere in-between departure and arrival, nostalgia and anticipation’ (Kazuo Ishiguro: Contemporary World Writers, p1). Comparing the two novels allows us to analyse the differing portrayals of cultural identity and the effect that location and family have on that identity.

Although set at different times, both novels use the locality of London and show the protagonist – also the narrator – moving to or from this city. In this respect, comparing When We Were Orphans and The Buddha of Suburbia allows us to analyse the presentation of ‘home’ and the effect of cultural identity on Karim and Christopher’s concepts of ‘home. ‘ Christopher of When We Were Orphans begins his life in Shanghai and when his family life is cut short by the disappearance of his parents, he moves to England to stay with his Aunt.

As a result memories of his parents are inevitably caught up with his time in China and his sense of home becomes entirely related to his childhood. Even his adult career choice if inspired entirely by childhood dreams and infant game playing. And so his childhood logic is carried into the adult world. Admittedly, his fascination with detective work comes about from the serious event of his father being kidnapped, but when we come to learn that Christopher has misunderstood the situation for all those years, the significance of his work lessens. Childhood whims have ultimately taken over his mature life.

The Colonel that he comes into contact with on his return to Shanghai theorises that Colonel ‘Our childhood becomes like a foreign land once we have grown. ‘ (WWWO, p346). It is clear that this is not the case for Christopher, with aspects of his childhood seemingly remaining in stasis after his departure from China. Before he has solved the mysterious disappearance of his parents Christopher is unable to make a home anywhere else. This is a fact that he obviously understands, and is apparent in his reply to the Colonel, ‘it’s hardly a foreign land to me. In many ways it’s where I’ve continued to live all my life.

It’s only now I’ve started to make my journey from it. ‘ (WWWO, p347). Therefore, the hold that unresolved events have on his life, prevent him from creating a new home. In London, Christopher becomes distinctly removed from the world around him, a fact made known to us early on when we are told that he is not accustomed to visitors. There is constantly a sense that others are sharing knowledge that he is not aware of. This is illustrated by the way that he is often observed by others, ‘I became conscious of the others in the room, and the fact that they were all watching me with gentle smiles. (WWWO, p236). Although he lives in London and does become attached to it on some level, it does not become a home for Christopher – ‘Nevertheless, there are those times when a sort of emptiness fills my hours (WWWO, p393). Removed from the present, the nature in which Christopher acquires a new family is farcical: he obtains a daughter as a result of a dinner party chat with a stranger. But even with a daughter he is unable to create a proper home and cannot move on until he has returned to Shanghai to solve the mystery of his parents.

In contrast, Karim of The Buddha of Suburbia embraces new experiences and uses them to escape from his troubled family life. He resents his father for living an interesting life in India but then forcing his son to grow up in a racist London suburb. However, Karim chooses to lose himself in sex and drugs and ultimately – unlike Christopher – progresses from his childhood. The serious nature of Haroon’s affair with Eva is softened by the narrator’s use of humour, as are many other incidents which would otherwise be emotional and traumatic.

Karim’s brash and sarcastic tone particularly enables him to present racial issues, which results in giving the reader a better understanding of prejudice in London at the time. Although we find Karim a likeable character, we do not feel immense sympathy for him, and this is a direct result of the use of humour. For example, when Karim and Jamila have abuse shouted at them, we are left with the image of Jamila sprinting after the cyclist rather than the actual emotional effects of such a racist comment. Both Karim and Christopher experience life as outsiders, in a society where they are not part of the majority.

Lewis, in his study of Kazuo Ishiguro, sees the character of Christopher as a displaced person – ‘one of the many in the twentieth century of exile and estrangement’ – and in this respect, similar to Ryder of The Unconsoled. Christopher constantly has to alter his behaviour in order to belong. The futile nature of such behaviour is apparent when he talks to Akira about disharmony between his parents. He is told by his friend that this may be a result of him not being English enough – ‘not behaving sufficiently like an Englishman (WWWO, p93); Akira is worried that his parents are also upset that he is not acting Japanese enough.

There is the suggestion that a person can alter their cultural appearance, and this is often forced by the opinions of others. As a result Christopher requests the help of his Uncle Phil in becoming more English. The fact that both boys are led to believe they are behaving incorrectly with regard to their nationality and culture implies that such feelings may arise regardless of location. Cultural identity also has significance for Karim, who constantly aims to blend in with his school friends and clearly does act and look just like them, ‘I had to study the Melody Maker and New Musical Express just to keep up’ (TBOS, p8).

The very beginning of the first chapter makes a reference to Karim’s affinity with his identity as an Englishman, ‘My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. ‘ (TBOS, p3). However, despite the fact that he is born and bred in the country, the presence of the word ‘almost’ introduces the issue of the attitudes of others and the fact that he is not accepted by English by all. The way that Karim is treated by members of the public and other children at school brings us to the words of Christopher’s Uncle Phil – ‘It’d be no wonder if you grew up a bit of a mongrel…

People need to feel they belong to a nation, to a race. Otherwise, who knows what might happen? ‘ (WWWO, p97). Although Uncle Phil is trying to put Christopher’s mind at ease, he actually succeeds in presenting quite an ominous and fatalistic thought. Indeed, both Christopher and Karim do not have one nation to which they belong: Karim has an Indian father and an English mother, while Christopher lives in Japan with English parents. Both experience feelings of being the minority and having to alter their behaviour accordingly, as Karim observes ‘to the English we were always wogs and nigs and Pakis and the rest of it’ TBOS, p53).

Christopher masters the art of fitting in, as shown when he enters English school and quickly takes on the mannerisms of other boys. Although Karim is adored by many because of his Indian appearance, he largely attempts to fit in as an Englishman. It seems that the nature of the Indian culture is only used for personal gain, as in the case of Haroon, who Karim overhears ‘hissing his s’s and exaggerating his Indian accent’ (TBOS, p21) obviously for the benefit of Eva. Despite the racial tension of London, it does seem to be the place where cultural identities can be exploited as well as transformed.

Karim Amir, seventeen years old, is the main character and the first person narrator of the novel. ?He grows up in South London suburbs but has Indian roots. His father was born in India where he spent his childhood and his mum is British so that Karim has many problems to find his identity.? Furthermore, he can’t decide whether to be homo- or heterosexual, so he has many experiences with both. In addition, he is not able to make a decision concerning his future. To be free and because he does not fancy learning, he leaves school and starts hanging around having fun all day long ( e. . he spends his time having sex with girls or boys, going to bars or visiting his relatives). “I was looking for trouble, any kind of movement, action and sexual interest I could find, because things were so gloomy, so slow and heavy, in our family, I don’t know why. “(p. 3) When his parents finally get divorced, Karim follows his dad Haroon and moves in with Eva and Charlie. He likes the two of them very much and moreover he is fond of the idea to get into another suburb or area.

Although he goes with his father, the second part of his family, his mother and brother, is very happy that he visits them sometimes. Both his mother and brother consider Haroon guilty and they do not want to see him. ?One day, Eva suggests to move to London and after a while, her idea can be realized. Karim gets to know the city and is amazed about its glamour and opportunities. At that point, Karim still has not got any job, but then Eva offers him to work with her and Ted in other people’s homes to improve their looks. This helps Karim o integrate into joblife. ?After a while, Eva is able to help him again developing and she fulfills his dream: She talks to Shadwell, a theatre director, who eventually asks Karim to play in his production. This forces him to work hard and to be busy with sensible and useful things.? By becoming a successful actor, he identifies himself more and more with the western culture and loses his Indian roots. Finally, he is even able to go to New York, where he gets to know the other side of success when he sees how uncomplicated Charlie deals with other human beings.

Charlie treats them like objects and feels superior to everyone. Experiences like this make him return to London. ?Another important event  for Karim’s development is his relationship to Eleanor, a girl he gets to know during his time as an actor and who lives in a richer social circle, which makes Karim think about his origin, education and lifestyle. He had sex with many other girls before (Jamila, Helen), but she seems to be more to him than only a short affair. She is the first true love of his life. It’s the first time that Karim has such strong feelings for a person.

He is impressed by the way she behaves, by her lifestyle, her whole appearance. That’s why she takes over the “strong part” in their relationship, but maybe that’s also the reason why he soon seems boring to her and she falls for Pyke. As Karim finds out, he breaks up with her. First, he is really sad, but the experience, that love can be that strong, is very important for him.? Another fact that is noticable is the change of Karim’s attitude towards his father. In the beginning, Haroon is a kind of “God” to Karim.

But as Karim becomes more eager to do something with his life, he more and more loses the respect for his dad. Karim sees that his father didn’t do anything meaningful with his life and that’s why, in his eyes, his father is no one special any more. In the end, Karim returns to his family when he realizes how important they are to him.? All in all, one can say that Karim is a very indecisive person, who needs much time to develop, to realize that you have to have aims in your life and that a job is also very helpful!

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Atonement - Major Themes. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

Atonement - Major Themes

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