Ian McEwan

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Uncle Clem’s Vase Symbol Analysis

Uncle Clem’s Vase Symbol Icon
This Tallis family heirloom was given to Jack Tallis’s brother Clem to commemorate Clem’s liberation of a village near Verdun in World War I. Early in the book, while Cecilia and Robbie flirt, they accidentally damage the vase. Cecilia disrobes and goes into a fountain to retrieve the broken piece, and Briony witnesses this event and understands it to signify that Robbie has mistreated her sister. This misunderstanding, along with others, forms the basis for Briony’s notion that Robbie is guilty of raping Lola. In this way, the accidental destruction of a Tallis family heirloom leads to a major rupture in the Tallis family itself, and the token won in World War I that honors the family leads to the breaking apart of the family in World War II.
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Uncle Clem’s Vase Symbol Timeline in Atonement

The timeline below shows where the symbol Uncle Clem’s Vase appears in Atonement. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 2
Class Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
Cecilia places flowers into a priceless family heirloom vase that was given to her late Uncle Clem after he helped save a village in... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
Perspective Theme Icon
Stories and Literature Theme Icon
Cecilia spends the afternoon repairing the vase. Briony passes by in tears, and Cecilia endeavors to comfort her. Cecilia hopes to calm... (full context)
Part 3
Perspective Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
The Unchangeable Past Theme Icon
Stories and Literature Theme Icon
...Tallises have taken into their home. Emily also relays that Betty dropped and shattered Clem’s vase after, as she claims, it broke apart in her hands. These letters make Briony feel... (full context)