Uniqueness Of The Reality Perception In Atonement By Ian Mcewan

Categories: Atonement

You might be wondering why I’m showing you the word liar. And some of you might now wonder why I said liar when all you’re seeing is a human face. And now that I’ve told you, you can see both. Such is the beauty of the human mind, and its perception of the world around us.

When I started thinking about the lessons of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, I was drawn to the idea of an optical illusion; unique perceptions of the one reality.

Atonement sweeps us up in its story and forces us to hear McEwan’s many messages; whispers of thoughts that will stay with us long after the final page is turned. But, what resonated most with me is this lesson; of how shaped by our different values and experiences, two people can have completely different perceptions of the same reality.

And so, I got to thinking about that fateful fountain scene. I found it easiest to channel my frustration at the novel’s events through Briony; after all, were they not her fault? Well, upon reflection, my emotions around Robbie and Cecilia’s fate somewhat calmed, I concluded that no, we can’t blame Briony.

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Hear me out. Castaway any preconceptions you may have of her, and place yourself in her shoes. Briony is at the awkward age of thirteen; no longer a child, but not yet an adult. She is still innocent, certainly, but she longs for maturity. I imagined what she saw at the fountain as an optical illusion; her inherent biases and values, borne from her worldly experiences distorted her perception of the events between Robbie and Cecilia.

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But she was not aware they were misinterpretations. This prevents us from being able to place all the blame on her; yes, she accused a man without tangible proof, but her views of Robbie, shaped by the letter and library scene, were absolutely true, to her. To Briony, Robbie and Cecilia were not in love. She could see the true connection between them, because, to her understanding, it did not exist. When I came to this realization, that she genuinely believed she was doing the right thing, I also realized Briony’s message to us; although some perceptions can be further from reality than others, who are we to say someone else’s version of the truth is a lie?

In this way, I think McEwan employs multi-perspectivism to show what truly happened at the fountain, and then contrast it with Briony’s perception. When I read the two scenes, I was not sure which account to believe. I think McEwan does this purposefully; to emphasize to us that, although three different events will live on in the character’s memories, every version is “true”.

From this, I realized the effects of our worldly experiences and values, on our perception of reality. And Lola is the perfect embodiment of this lesson. McEwan uses dramatic irony, and foreshadows impending events when Paul Marshall says, “D’you know, you remind me of my sister.” We know he had just had a sexual dream about his sisters. But Lola doesn’t. And she hasn’t experienced a man like him before. Instead, she values attention and adulthood, and Marshall offers just that. I questioned this part of the novel for a while; how did Lola let it happen twice? Well, what I decided was that Lola’s values distorted her perception, and meant she didn’t see Marshall’s true intentions the way we did.

And so, I also realized that no character, and none of us, are capable of experiencing something in a truly objective fashion. Even Robbie and Cecilia assume Danny Hardman was Lola’s rapist, simply because he is a servant. They said, “(Marshall’s) a greedy fool but I can’t imagine him with Lola…” So, even though they knew better than anyone the effects of prejudice, it is human nature to judge others based on our preconceptions. We can’t help it.

And, upon writing this reflection, I realized just how important these messages are. I cannot tell someone who sees a situation differently than I do, that they are wrong. This concept has so many different applications, but what I thought of immediately was humanity’s tendency to argue over social issues. And not to get too political, but I think a lot of people have something to learn from Briony’s story.

We tend to be stubborn. We believe our version of the truth is the only truth. It is hard for us to accept that those who don’t agree with us might not be wrong. I’m sure many, if not all of you, have experienced this. Personally, my grandparents were brought up as conservative Catholics, and have different values and beliefs to me, as a result of the society they formed their opinions in. Although I don’t always agree. Atonement helped me realize that people don’t always have malicious intent – they can truly believe that what they are saying is the truth. And it is. Just because it isn’t mine, doesn’t mean it isn’t theirs.

It can be easy to get frustrated with people who disagree with us, or won’t acknowledge our opinion. But consider this; wouldn’t it be boring if everyone saw the world the same way?

Updated: Feb 13, 2024
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Uniqueness Of The Reality Perception In Atonement By Ian Mcewan. (2024, Feb 13). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/uniqueness-of-the-reality-perception-in-atonement-by-ian-mcewan-essay

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