Atonement

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Atonement Part 1, Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Briony’s memories of interrogations and sworn testimony in court will trouble her less than her patchy memory of the fateful night itself. Once Lola has been taken away to be examined, Briony is left at “centre stage,” and she feels a newfound maturity. She is caught up in the somber gravity of the event, with the doctor and the investigators and the secrecy surrounding Lola’s violation. Paul Marshall comes in from searching and converses briefly with the policemen. Meanwhile, Cecilia moves anxiously around the edge of the room, and looks at Briony furiously whenever the younger girl recounts what she has seen.
This is the performance Briony wanted to make through The Trials of Arabella. Her acting and storytelling have earned her attention and, she believes, impressed the adults. Paul Marshall returns alone, meanwhile, but nobody even thinks to suspect him.
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The gathered people receive word that Lola has been sedated and is now able to sleep. Everyone waits in the drawing room for Robbie. Briony decides to retrieve Robbie’s letter from Cecilia’s room. She finds it and brings it to a policeman, who reads it impassively. Another policeman reads it, as does Leon, and Emily demands to read it. Finally, Cecilia sees what they are doing and indignantly tells them to stop reading her letter. Emily responds that Cecilia could have prevented this tragedy if she had shown someone the letter sooner. Briony feels “vindicated” by the way the adults are accusing Cecilia of negligence.
Briony seriously invades her sister’s privacy to produce an irrelevant detail: Robbie’s letter. This letter is so important to Briony because it was the key piece that moved her to craft the narrative of Robbie as a predatory evildoer. By showing it to the gathered adults, she allows them to do the same. Cecilia is the only one to protest because her different perspective on Robbie and his letter allows her to understand what the message truly signifies.
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Briony stays up all night and shows the policemen the spot in the library where she saw Robbie committing his “attack” on Cecilia. Later on, news arrives that Jack’s car has broken down and he will not make it home in time. As everyone else is interviewed, the opinion that Robbie is a dangerous maniac solidifies. Cecilia insists that Danny Hardman is the man they should be interested in, but everyone understands that she is simply impugning an innocent young man to assist her friend.
Briony continues to impose her perspective on the authorities, to ensure they comprehend the scenario in exactly the same way she does. It is interesting that Cecilia pins the blame on the servant Danny Hardman, as she is engaging in the same kind of class-based prejudice that is being leveled against Robbie.
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Finally, at around five in the morning, Robbie returns with the twins in tow. Briony is relieved to see the twins safe, but feels outraged that Robbie could try to hide his transgression with a good deed. The policemen approach Robbie. Briony is led back inside, and she lies in bed thinking about what she has done. After some time, she hears a police car starting up, and looks through her window to see Robbie being led away in handcuffs. Cecilia approaches Robbie and speaks to him as he is taken into the car. Then, an inspector separates the two. Robbie is placed in the backseat and the car begins to drive off. Suddenly, Robbie’s mother, Grace Turner, appears, and begins to hit the car with her umbrella, screaming “Liars! Liars! Liars!” The constables restrain her, and she watches from a distance as the car moves over the bridge and disappears from the grounds.
Briony’s self-delusion is so complete that even the twins’ safe return, an unequivocally good thing, causes her outrage because it mars the perfect story she has devised. She has made herself believe her narrative, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that her narrative has overcome her, so that she can only see Robbie doing a good thing as him hiding what Briony is certain is his true depraved self. The speed with which Robbie is determined to be the sole suspect likely has to do with his lower social class and the biases held against him for it. He felt a part of the Tallis family, but he and his mother were always actually outsiders granted contingent access.
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