Study Guide

Atonement Chapter 13

By Ian McEwan

Chapter 13

  • Back to just after dinner… to assist with the search for the twins and avoid Robbie, Briony heads toward the swimming pool.
  • As she walks, she thinks about Robbie and decides he must hate her. She enjoys the idea of being adult enough to be hated by an adult, and fantasizes about how she'll protect Cecilia even if Cecilia doesn't want to be protected.
  • When Briony arrives at the pool, nobody is there.
  • She thinks about herself as a writer, about how adult she is becoming and how thrilling it is to live life beyond the nursery. She thinks and she walks around until she thinks she hears a shout and sees a flash of light from the corner of her eye.
  • Briony stops in her tracks to listen and look more carefully before walking toward the woods where she thinks the sound and light came from.
  • When she gets to the woods, though, again she finds nothing.
  • Heading back toward the house, Briony catches a glimpse of her mother through the window and, amongst other things, considers what it will be like when her mother dies.
  • Briony considers going in and sitting with her mother for a moment, but decides to stay out instead. And in this moment—in this one small decision—a crime is set into motion.
  • Briony runs away from the house, slowing as she reaches the driveway. She remembers that there is an angry maniac outside with her (that angry maniac would be Robbie, in case you'd forgotten… and because Briony is the only one who thinks this about him), but summons the courage to proceed toward the bridge.
  • As Briony arrives at the temple, she realizes that what she's thought are a couple of bushes in the dark are actually two people. One retreats and the other stands up from the ground.
  • The one that stands is Lola.
  • Lola calls to Briony, helplessness in her voice.
  • Briony sees the first figure again and watches it make its way toward the house. With impossible clarity (remember—she thought the two people were bushes), Briony develops a sense of who this man is.
  • Briony asks her cousin who the figure was but before Lola can answer Briony declares that she knows who it was, that she saw him.
  • She asks Lola again who it was, seeking confirmation of her suspicion. Again Lola doesn't answer, though this time Briony at least waits a few seconds before announcing that it was Robbie.
  • Lola says nothing in response as Briony repeatedly says Robbie's name.
  • When Lola finally speaks, she simply says, "'You saw him.'" She repeats this phrase several times going forward, while Briony's conviction about Robbie's terribleness grows.
  • And then Lola tells Briony how her attacker came up behind her and pushed her to the ground, how he put his hand over her eyes, how she didn't see him.
  • Briony's commitment to her story about Robbie grows deeper and she promises to tell what she saw.
  • The narrative moves into the future now, and Briony repeats her accusation over and over to police. She knows in her heart that she actually isn't sure, but feels she cannot go back on the accusation. Plus, whenever she deviates from her tale the slightest bit, she's chastised. She seems scared of being dismissed as a silly girl, which makes sense given how thrilled she is to be included in the adult realm at all.
  • And then the narrative swoops back out to the temple where Lola and Briony are sitting silently in the dark.
  • When Lola breaks the silence, it's to express doubts that Robbie would attack her. Briony quells her concerns by reminding her cousin of what she saw in the library earlier.
  • The two girls begin to make their way toward the house, but when they get near Lola bursts into tears and says she can't go in.
  • Just then, Leon comes striding over, scoops Lola up in his arms, and begins to quickly carry her to the house. All the while, Briony is telling him what she "saw."