Literature Study GuidesAtonementPart 1 Chapter 14 Summary

Atonement | Study Guide

Ian McEwan

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Atonement | Part 1, Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

Back at the house, Emily and Betty lead Lola to a comforting bath while the police arrive. Meanwhile, Paul returns to the house and offers the police cigarettes from his gold case. Cecilia hangs at the periphery, clearly upset.

Briony goes to Cecilia's room and retrieves Robbie's letter as "proof" of his crime. Emily reads it, and Cecilia becomes incensed by this betrayal of her privacy. Emily blames Cecilia for not coming forward earlier with the letter, claiming Lola might not have been raped if she had.

Briony has her first interview with the police and implicates Robbie. Cecilia defends Robbie and attempts to cast suspicion on young Hardman, but she is dismissed. When Robbie returns, having found the twins, he is taken into custody by the police. Cecilia speaks to him as he is put into the car in handcuffs. His mother, Grace Turner, follows the police car as her son is being taken away and condemns the Tallis family for being liars.

Analysis

Older Briony admits in her narration that her "fragmented recollection" of that summer night troubled her for years to come. "Guilt refined ... detail into an eternal loop, a rosary to be fingered for a lifetime." As part of her atonement, Briony must continually come back to the painful memories of what she has wrought. Although her punishment is not as severe as what happens to Robbie, the consequences of her actions haunt her.

Paul, with his "gold cigarette case," hides in plain sight, sheltered by the privilege of his class. No one, not even Cecilia, who knows Robbie is not guilty, thinks of Paul as a suspect. As Briony correctly surmises, "evil was complicated and misleading," but she thinks this about the wrong person. When Robbie brings the twins back, Briony is disgusted at what she sees as his "cynical attempt" to "conceal his crime behind an apparent kindness."

When Briony observes Cecilia talking to Robbie before he is taken away, Cecilia touches Robbie's lapel in what Briony assumes is an act of forgiveness. She is touched by Cecilia's capacity for forgiveness, and muses that she and Cecilia will certainly grow closer after this tragedy. How wrong she is, both about Cecilia's capacity for forgiveness and their growing closer.

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