Study Guide

Atonement Chapter 2

By Ian McEwan

Chapter 2

  • Cecilia Tallis is jonesing for a cigarette, so she's running to the fountain with some flowers in hand. She is seriously bored after returning from school and in dire need of some relief. A cigarette in the shade seems to be the best she can come up with right now.
  • Cecilia admires the reproduction of the sculpture of Bernini's Triton and notices Robbie Turner gardening. Robbie was her childhood friend and they attended university together as well. He is hoping to go off to medical school, a degree which Cecilia's father would pay for. Something about Robbie's academic hopes and Cecilia's father's support of him seems to irk her.
  • She returns around the front of the house so as to avoid Robbie, noting how ugly the house's exterior is and recalling her ironmonger grandfather who made the family fortune with patents on padlocks. The house's interior and the property's landscape, however, suit her tastes.
  • Cecilia feels dissatisfied with herself. She'd thought she would come back from university at Cambridge and enjoy her family, but they don't seem especially interested in her. She knows Briony's play is going to end in disaster, and doesn't want to be involved.
  • She wonders why she doesn't go off to stay with Leon in London or embark on some other adventure. Something, she feels, is holding her back.
  • She watches Robbie through the window as he rolls a cigarette, making a little mental list of interests he's abandoned. Thinking ill of Robbie is like a hobby of hers.
  • Cecilia puts the flowers into a vase that once belonged to her Uncle Clem. The vase was a gift to him from a village in France in honor of his bravery in defending them during World War I.
  • Cecilia spends a ridiculous amount of time considering the arrangement of the flowers before deciding to head back to the fountain to fill the vase with water (instead of getting water much closer by in the kitchen).
  • When she steps outside, it is all sunshine and warmth and good smells. There are birds and blooming trees. And then there is Robbie.
  • Cecilia asks him for a cigarette and they stroll over to the fountain. When Cecilia remarks about how beautiful the day is, Robbie gives her a look and she admits to herself that they seem to have some sort of feelings for each other.
  • Instead of talking romance, though, Cecilia and Robbie discuss Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, which Cecilia is reading.
  • Cecilia worries briefly that she's suggested sensual desires to Robbie—this would never be her intention—and then basically slips into a little daydream about how handsome and smart she thinks he is. Try though she might to resist her feelings toward Robbie by noting every single tiny quirk and failure of his, it seems she just can't help herself.
  • So Cecilia brings up Paul Marshall, the chocolate magnate who is coming to visit with Leon. Robbie reacts oddly and she wonders if he is jealous. She thinks she doesn't know him very well anymore, and suggests he shouldn't go to medical school. He wonders if she's worried about her father's money.
  • Cecilia is irritated. She remembers a few days earlier when Robbie took his shoes off to come in the house to borrow a book. She thinks he's deliberately trying to tease and humiliate her. The more obvious explanation—that they are both desperately flirting—doesn't occur to her.
  • Cecilia dips the vase in the fountain to get water, and Robbie tries to help her. She refuses, he insists, and they manage between them to break the lip. Two pieces snap from the vase and fall into the fountain.
  • Robbie prepares to unbutton his shirt to get the pieces. Instead though, Cecilia strips down to her underwear, goes into the fountain, and dives down for the pieces. Then she gets out, gets dressed, and stalks away. Robbie can only watch.