Literature Study GuidesAtonementPart 1 Chapter 5 Summary

Atonement | Study Guide

Ian McEwan

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Atonement | Part 1, Chapter 5 | Summary



After Briony abandons play rehearsals, the twins play football with a wooden brick, and Lola enters Paul's bedroom for a view of Briony out by the water. She notices Paul's suitcase, and when she slides one of the locks with her thumb, the clasp opens, startling her. She leaves and tries to occupy the twins elsewhere on the property but ends up with them back in the nursery.

The twins express their displeasure at being there. Referring to their parents, Jackson utters the word divorce. Lola admonishes him never to use the word again. Paul enters, perhaps having overheard the discussion. He greets them and sits in an armchair.

When the twins ask Paul if he knows their parents, he says he has read about them in the papers. Using adult words, Lola orders him "not to talk about them in front of the children." Lola and Paul then engage in adult conversation, both lying about having seen William Shakespeare's play Hamlet in London.

Paul opens one of his chocolate bars in front of the cousins. The twins do not seem convinced by his plan to put a chocolate bar in every soldier's kit if they go to war, and they complain the name "Army Amo" is boring. Paul gives the bar to Lola and watches her closely as she eats it.


Lola's being caught off guard by the latch on Paul's suitcase foreshadows his surprise attacks on her later, once in the nursery and once at the temple outside.

McEwan characterizes Paul as a man with a "cruel face" but a pleasant manner. He comes off as creepy as he watches Lola's tongue on his chocolate bar with avid fascination.

Paul's calling his candy bar "Amo" is fitting because just as his bar is a mockery of chocolate (it does not contain any cocoa and is, therefore, cheaper to make), so his actions toward Lola are a mockery of love. Lola catches on to the reference immediately. "Amo amas amat," she says, referring to the Latin conjugation of the verb "to love." With his unflattering portrayal of Paul and his "Army Amo" bar, McEwan criticizes those who would profit from war.

Both Lola and Paul lie easily about having seen Hamlet in London, and this sets them up as unreliable and morally ambiguous. It also foreshadows their complicity in the lie that condemns Robbie.

The word divorce is uttered aloud for the first time, and all recoil from it, as if saying it invokes the actual act. Divorce is one of the chaos words that Briony despises, and its effective use in this chapter underscores the power-of-words theme in the novel.

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