Study Guide

Atonement Chapter 4

By Ian McEwan

Chapter 4

  • Cecilia finishes patching the vase back together. Evidently she's spent hours on this task.
  • Briony comes in and Cecilia immediately can tell that she's super upset because she's pinching her lower lip, something she's done forever.
  • Cecilia wants to comfort her little sister and recalls tending to her when they were younger and Briony had nightmares. Briony's growing up, though, and her problems are becoming more of her own.
  • This time, the problem is the play. It's in the wrong genre, a word Briony completely mispronounces before walking away.
  • Cecilia fills the vase, collects the flowers, and brings them to the room Paul Marshall will be staying in.
  • She lingers in the room, relishing its cleanliness. Through the window, she sees Hardman approaching the house with Leon and Paul Marshall seated behind him. She imagines the warm welcomes Leon and Paul will share with Robbie and, yet again, feels irritated.
  • So she searches for her cigarettes in her own messy bedroom and smokes as she walks downstairs.
  • Leon and Paul have arrived and Danny Hardman is carrying their luggage into the house behind them. As she often has when she first meets a man, she wonders if Paul is the man she will marry.
  • Cecilia and Leon exchange a big hug, and the smell of his coat and the feel of a pen in his jacket pocket remind her for a moment of afternoon visits to men's colleges. The memory seems to be a fond one.
  • Paul Marshall, on the other hand, is immediately dull when he speaks.
  • The matter of where Paul is staying comes up, and Cecilia directs Danny Hardman to the second floor. She notes that she's seen him hanging around the kids lately and wonders if it's because he has a crush on Lola.
  • They put Paul in Auntie Venus's room (Auntie Venus was a distant relative who stayed with the family for some time) and then settle down to hang out for a bit.
  • As it turns out, Paul is a huge, self-involved bore. He opens their group conversation with a ten-minute monologue. Yikes.
  • Cecilia imagines how absolutely terrible it would be to be married to him and yet feels kind of excited by the awfulness too. It becomes clear that Leon shares her feelings.
  • Leon announces he's invited Robbie to dinner. And guess what? Cecilia is cranky about it. Shocking.
  • Leon busts on Cecilia for being so unfriendly to Robbie after having known him for so long (Robbie is their cleaning lady's son) and notes how bright Robbie is.
  • Cecilia tries to convince Leon to disinvite Robbie to dinner, but since she won't give him a reason to, Leon's not taking the bait.
  • Cecilia says she wants some fancy mixed drinks; Paul offers to make some with chocolate because he's the chocolate guy.
  • As they go in, Cecilia thinks she feels Paul touch her on the arm. It might've been a leaf though. Either way, it's kind of a creepy moment.