Study Guide

Atonement Chapter 3

By Ian McEwan

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Chapter 3

  • Despite having hung a poster in the hallway to keep rehearsals and the debut performance of her play on track, Briony is having trouble getting everyone together to practice for the play. Go figure.
  • Her cause isn't helped any by Jackson being forced to wash his own sheets after wetting the bed, particularly since the kid has never washed a sheet before in his life (in case you weren't thinking of it, this is pre-washing machines, so this takes some actual elbow grease).
  • Even if Jackson were able to participate, though, it doesn't seem like rehearsal would be going much better. Pierrot speaks his lines badly and Lola wants everyone to know she's too adult for the room. Plus, Danny Hardman is lurking in the doorway.
  • Everyone wanders away from rehearsal except Briony, and she finds herself suddenly in a silent house staring at her hand, marveling at her ability to control it and the tiny moment between when she thinks about moving it and it actually moves. She also wonders whether everyone else in the world is as conscious as she is, if they find their lives as important as she finds her own. She figures they must, but has trouble really believing it. We feel you, Briony—it's kind of a mind-blowing concept.
  • Her mind returns to play rehearsals and how chaotic they are.
  • Stopping by a window, Briony looks out and sees Robbie and Cecilia by the fountain. Trying to make sense of their interaction from afar, she decides that either a marriage proposal is taking place or Robbie is ordering Cecilia out of her clothes and into the fountain. These are the only possible explanations she can come up with, though neither seems quite right to her, and she feels like she is getting a glimpse into the world of adults.
  • She imagines writing a story about this moment, using fiction to capture just how equally complicated and full everyone's mind is. Fiction, Briony understands, can show separate minds. This is the only moral it needs.
  • We slip forward sixty years to Briony identifying this moment as the moment she realized she would be a novelist.
  • And then we hop right back to teenage Briony as she continues to consider how she'd write this scene. She envisions writing the same scene from three different perspectives… Sound familiar? It should—the same maneuvers are made in the book we're reading.
  • Briony is still a total type-A personality, though, so she refocuses her attention on her play that nobody wants to be in in hopes of pulling it off for Leon's arrival.

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