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by Ian McEwan

 Table of Contents

Atonement Themes

Atonement Themes

Coming of Age

Atonement covers 64 years, which is long enough to do a serious amount of growing up. Everybody who wants to grow up in the book—Lola, who paints her toenails and wears perfume; Briony, who wants...

Compassion and Forgiveness

The name of the book is Atonement, so you know it's a story about trying to get forgiveness for your sins. Those sins are, oddly, mostly about making up stories. And the way you try to get forgiven...

Dreams, Hopes and Plans

Expressing a dream or a hope or a plan in Atonement is a pretty sure way to have the novel drop a heap of misery in your lap. Briony sets out to stage an awesome play; Robbie decides to head off to...

Literature and Writing

As you might have heard us mention before, Atonement is literature about literature. It's writing about writing. It turns back and bites its own tail, like a flexible yoga dog. Briony writes the no...


On the one hand, family in Atonement is peace and happiness and mom reading the play you read out loud while hugging you and doing all the voices. On the other hand, family is a multi-tentacled mon...


There are basically two sex acts in the novel, and they're both really important. The first is when Robbie and Cecilia have their sweetly scandalous encounter in the library, and the second is the...

Versions of Reality

When you see "versions of reality," you might start thinking about science-fiction and fantasy and phasers and Jedis and hobbits. There aren't any phasers or Jedis in Atonement, though. The differe...


Often times, war in literature is presented as horrible, but it at least allows for some exciting plotting. If you're at war, you're doing something. Not so much in Atonement, though. There aren't...

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