Social Class Differences and Attitudes of the Novel Atonement

Categories: Novel

Atonement is a 2001 novel by British author Ian McEwan. It is widely regarded as one of McEwan's best works and was one of the most celebrated and honoured books of its time. It was shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize for fiction. TIME Magazine named Atonement in its list All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels. Atonement tells the story of the Tallis family. This usual upper-class English family lives in an usual country estate, the children get usual for their social class education (in Cambridge, of course).

The head of the family, Jack Tallis is a minor character in the novel. We know he is an extremely hard-working and generous man – he funds education of Tallis charlady’s son, Robby. He is sent to study at Cambridge as well as the eldest daughter of the Tallis, Cecilia. These two characters and their relationships show the injustices of social class which appear throughout the first part of the novel. During childhood, all the children were too young and innocent to recognize any difference between themselves and Robbie was close friends with Cecilia.

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Although while their studying at the university they did not befriend one another because of the clear social-class distinction between the two. The difference in social class is responsible for the early misunderstanding between Robbie and Cecilia. She mistakes his removing his boots and socks before entering her house for an act of exaggerated deference, "playacting the cleaning lady's son come to the big house on an errand". She has taken this sense of social difference from her class conscious mother, Emily.

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Emily resents the fact that her husband has paid for Robbie's education, an act which she characterizes as "a hobby of Jack's … which smacked of meddling to her," that is of upsetting the "natural" order of things. The result is Emily's encouragement of her younger daughter in childish lie – Robbie is accused of raping. Cecilia is the only one who stands by him, insisting on his innocence. Robbie is a victim of social distinction, and she knows that. She loves him, and she is ready to renounce her point of view, left her family in order to be with him. It’s her atonement.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Social Class Differences and Attitudes of the Novel Atonement. (2017, Jan 05). Retrieved from

Social Class Differences and Attitudes of the Novel Atonement essay
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