Literature Study GuidesAtonementPart 1 Chapter 6 Summary

Atonement | Study Guide

Ian McEwan

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Atonement | Part 1, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Emily Tallis lies immobile in her bedroom, stricken by one of her frequent migraines. She reflects how "everything was shrinking." She is dissatisfied with Leon's lack of ambition and with Cecilia's lack of marriage prospects after her time at Girton College, rubbing shoulders with "silly, ignorant ladies." She feels sorry for Briony in having to deal with Lola, whom she sees as just as scheming as Lola's mother, Hermione, Emily's sister.

Emily hears everything in the house and feels she has a "tentacular awareness" of everything that goes on there. She rests through the afternoon heat, ruminating on all the events the reader has seen happen in previous chapters.

After dozing, she hears the "muted thunder of the plumbing" cease "with a judder that shook the air." Then she hears a "little squeal of laughter abruptly smothered" and surmises Lola is in the nursery with Paul.

Analysis

Many years of afternoon bed rest have given Emily a "sixth sense"; "only the truth came back to her, for what she knew, she knew." Taking this at face value, the reader can assume later that Emily "knows" Paul raped Lola but willingly suppresses this knowledge. The reader can only speculate about her motives for not coming forward with what she "knows." Is it because she fears the repercussions of accusing such a prominent member of her own class? Or is it to exact revenge against her unfaithful husband's protégé, Robbie, since she cannot strike out against her husband directly?

But because older Briony is the writer behind Emily's point of view in this chapter, the reader might wonder if older Briony is trying to assuage her own guilt by subtly shifting the blame onto her mother. If her mother "knew everything," why did she not stop Briony from bearing false witness and end the whole incident with Robbie before it began? In any case, by withholding what she "knows," Emily shares in the guilt of unfairly ruining Robbie and Cecily's life.

Emily is clearly not a fan of her sister, Hermione, or of Hermione's daughter, Lola, and the reader sees her resentment for having to host her irresponsible sister's children while Hermione is having what "she wanted everyone to call a nervous breakdown." Emily wonders how she can protect Briony against her "hard-bitten," thin cousin Lola.

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