Atonement

Atonement Part 1, Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Emily prepares to telephone PC Vockins, the village constable. She thinks more about Lola’s injuries and feels little sympathy, because Lola reminds her of her scene-stealing sister Hermione. She wonders if she should hold off calling the constable, since Jack will call soon to apologize for his absence. She appears to suspect that his nights away from home indicate an extramarital affair, but both she and her husband are too averse to conflict to discuss the topic with one another. Emily thinks more on her husband’s career, and remembers catching a glimpse of some of his paperwork, which showed calculations predicting the casualties from the impending warfare.
Every character’s distinct perspective causes them to construe the same events in different ways. Because Emily carries the baggage of her rocky relationship with Hermione, she is unsympathetic to the harms Lola has suffered—even though Lola’s injuries are genuine and Briony is the one who indulges in scene-stealing antics. Jack Tallis’s efforts to calculate the impact of war also mirror other characters’ attempts to encapsulate immense, unpredictable scenarios “cleanly” in writing. His work also foreshadows the coming war.
Themes
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Emily stays seated inside and muses that her refusal to “join in” the searching seems like a holdover from her ten-year-old self. She reflects on the dinner and notices that Robbie looked somewhat “manic;” and wonders if perhaps he is smoking marijuana. Emily sees Robbie as “a hobby of Jack’s,” cultivated to validate Jack’s notions of equality. She was not in favor of funding Robbie’s education, and has often remarked that “nothing good will come of it.”
Emily recognizes her own childishness, but does nothing to change her behavior. Meanwhile,, like Briony, she lets her classist biases against Robbie craft an image of him as a drug-addled maniac. This view into her perspective also shows that Robbie’s position in the household isn’t as secure as he seems to believe.
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Nevertheless, Emily thinks, Briony was out of line in her treatment of Robbie at the dinner. Paul Marshall eased the tension “artfully,” thinks Emily, and she wonders if he would make a good suitor for Cecilia. His chocolate business will make him enormously rich. After Emily muses for another half hour, Jack calls. Emily tells him of Robbie’s manic look at the table and asks if they really need to be funding medical school for him. Jack responds that they do.
Just as Emily is overly suspicious of Robbie because she resents him, she is overly accommodating of Paul, who is rapacious and boorish, simply because Paul is heir to a substantial fortune.
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Suddenly, Leon, Cecilia, and Briony enter, comforting a ghostly pale Lola. Leon reaches for the phone and tells his father to come home. He seems furious, but tries to calm himself. He tells his mother that she should sit down, and Emily is terrified that Leon’s news is so bad that he wants her to be seated before he delivers it.
The tension of the dinner, and of the characters’ varied and repeated misconceptions, has finally come to a head—and life will never return to the way it was previously. Leon, surprisingly, has adopted an unusual role of authority to handle this crisis.
Themes
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