Literature Study GuidesAtonementPart 3 Section 3 Summary

Atonement | Study Guide

Ian McEwan

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Atonement | Part 3, Section 3 | Summary



Briony finally understands that the war will be coming to Britain. She gets a letter from her father telling her about the upcoming marriage of Lola and Paul. This prompts her to call her father and to wonder whether his conveyance of this specific information means "he was trying to tell her that he knew the truth." However, she does not reach him.


Her father's news about Paul and Lola comes as a shock to Briony, although she is not altogether surprised. She knows she is the one who made their unsavory union possible. In the wake of the letter, Briony feels "her familiar guilt pursue her with novel vibrancy." No matter how much work she throws herself into—scrubbing, sweeping, polishing, running errands, dressing boils—she knows "she would never undo the damage." She decides she is unforgivable.

And yet, she still desires to be forgiven. Her attempt to reach out to her father is an attempt to console herself with the possibility that someone else knows the truth and can share in her guilt. But within her failure to reach him, McEwan seems to say guilt does not work so; it is something you must bear and atone for on your own.

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