Literature Study GuidesAtonementPart 3 Section 6 Summary

Atonement | Study Guide

Ian McEwan

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Atonement | Part 3, Section 6 | Summary



After the wedding, Briony eats at a café. Instead of returning to the hospital, however, she goes to visit Cecilia at her apartment. Cecilia is not happy to see her, but she allows her to come in. She tells Briony that Robbie's case will not get an appeal because Briony is an "unreliable witness." Briony declares that she will go to the family and confess what she knows, but Cecilia only laughs derisively.

Robbie enters the room, and Briony is shaken but relieved to see him alive. They clear up that it was not the Hardman boy but Paul who raped Lola. Cecilia realizes that Paul is immune because Lola will "always cover for him." Cecilia and Robbie accompany Briony to the tube station. Briony finally apologizes, but they do not forgive her.


In this fictional version of events written by "BT," the older Briony, Robbie is alive and well and visiting his lover, Cecilia, assured of their future together. The structural clue McEwan plants to indicate this scene is a figment of Briony's imagination is Briony's feeling "the distance widen between her and another self." One version of her walks back to the hospital; her "ghostly persona" continues on to Cecilia's flat in Balham.

Cecilia's narrow room has striped wallpaper that makes it look like a prison. Briony knows she condemned Cecilia by condemning Robbie, and no amount of her trying to write them a happy ending will change the outcome. While in the stuffy room, Briony longs for a glass of water, a rebirth to be given to her by her sister, but she dares not ask. She knows she does not deserve it.

When she sees how his experiences have aged Robbie, Briony is shocked. She wonders why everything has "to be her fault." Could she not also blame the war? Indeed, the war kills both Robbie and Cecilia, but it was Briony who set them on path there. She does not get absolution.

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