Literature Study GuidesAtonementPart 3 Section 1 Summary

Atonement | Study Guide

Ian McEwan

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Atonement | Part 3, Section 1 | Summary



Briony has become a probationer nurse at a London hospital. Her days are spent being commanded to do menial nursing tasks by Sister Drummond. In preparation for the influx of retreating soldiers from France, the wards are being cleared. Unease grows as the war comes closer to home.


Briony has chosen a life of strict order, and within this order, she has no control. She is as helpless at the mercy of Sister Drummond as she was as an infant with her mother. Nurses must wear uniforms, and they are forbidden to use their Christian names, so Briony's identity is stripped away. She becomes simply Nurse Tallis, which suits her because it distances her from the Briony who committed a crime against Robbie. Her ordered routine delivers her "from introspection," and her state of mind depends on "how she stood that hour in the ward sister's opinion."

Water, which was once her refuge, now becomes an instrument of punishment: she must wash her hands a dozen times a day under its stinging coldness.

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