Literature Study GuidesAtonementPart 1 Chapter 9 Summary

Atonement | Study Guide

Ian McEwan

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Atonement | Part 1, Chapter 9 | Summary



Cecilia is in her room, trying on various dresses before she decides on a dark green, backless gown to wear to dinner. Once dressed, she opens her door and sees Jackson, who is upset because he and Pierrot only have one pair of socks between them. She helps the twins clean their room, which is in a terrible state of disarray, and then gets them a pair of Briony's socks to wear.

She goes to the kitchen and diplomatically ends an argument about dinner between her mother and Betty, the cook. She then chats with Leon on the terrace, and listens to him as he conjures "a world of good intentions and pleasant outcomes" and invites her to visit him in London.

Briony enters the room, hands Cecilia a folded piece of paper, and then runs to Leon. Cecilia reads the letter and Robbie's love becomes clear to her. "Of course. How had she not seen it?" she questions herself. Then in horror, Cecilia asks Briony whether she read the note, but Briony ignores her.


As Cecilia tries on dresses, she rejects the severe black dress that makes her look like she's "eighty-five, in widow's weeds." She also rejects a pink dress that "flares like an eight-year-old's party frock." Cecilia wants Robbie to see her as a sensual woman, so she decides on a sexy, backless, green gown. Using dress symbolism again, McEwan shows how Cecilia comes into her adult sexuality, purposely putting aside girlish innocence as well as mature propriety.

When cleaning her cousins' room, Cecilia inadvertently clears the scene of Paul's first attack on Lola and the "broad damp stain on the carpet" with "a bar of soap and damp wads of lavatory paper." Because the twins are so chaotic, it never occurs to her this might have to do with Lola, and Lola later (in Part 1, Chapter 10) uses the twins as a cover for Paul's actions, too.

Briony also takes advantage of the chaos of Leon's greeting her to avoid Cecilia's rage at discovering Briony has read Robbie's note. Cecilia observes, "never had [Briony] appeared so animated, so weirdly excited." This underscores the novel's power-of-words theme; Robbie's words have caused a noticeable change in Briony's behavior, pushing her into emotional chaos.

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