Literature Study GuidesAtonementPart 3 Section 5 Summary

Atonement | Study Guide

Ian McEwan

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Atonement | Part 3, Section 5 | Summary



Briony walks across London, trying to find the church in which Lola and Paul are to be married. While she walks, she considers the truth of the magazine's rejection letter.

When she arrives at the church, she notices it is nearly empty. Only her aunt and uncle, the twins, and three members of the Marshall family are there to witness the marriage. She considers interrupting the ceremony and confessing what she knows: Lola is marrying her rapist.

Lola recognizes Briony on her way out after the ceremony, but Paul does not. The wedding party drives off, leaving Briony on her own.


When Briony reflects on her rejection letter, she admits that she uses the story to "satisfy her vanity" and to hide her guilt behind a "slight, barely clever fiction." She recognizes she is a coward and "everything she did not wish to confront was also missing from her novella."

When the minister at the wedding inquires whether anyone present knows of any reason why the two should not be married, Briony feels provoked. She wants to come forward, but she knows there is no proof since her own words led to the conviction of the wrong man. The power of those words cannot be taken back by a weak protest at this point; Lola's bruises and scratches are long faded and the damage to Robbie and Cecilia is done.

Lola frowns when she sees Briony, and with good reason. Briony is an unwelcome reminder of her own complicity in Robbie's fate. Briony appears as a "ghostly illuminated apparition" in the church, reflecting her ghostly appearance at the bridge when Robbie gives her the letter for Cecilia.

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