Study Guide

Atonement Coming of Age

By Ian McEwan

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 to learn all about how adults feel so she can write it down; Robbie, who wants to be free and pursue his own ambitions; Cecilia, who wanders around moping and smoking waiting for her life to start—gets old. Every single one of them—even those who actually died before they had a chance, thanks to Briony's novel.

So does all this growing up and getting old make them happy? Well… that's another question…

Questions About Coming of Age

  1. How is Cecilia's coming of age in the novel similar to Lola's coming of age? How is it different?
  2. In what ways is Briony at the end of the novel different from her younger self? In what ways is she the same?
  3. In novels, men are often presented as becoming adults by going to war. Does the war make Robbie a man? How about Briony and Cecilia?

Chew on This

Atonement shows that being an adult is a dream you have when you're a child, and being a child is a dream you have when you're an adult.

The one person who is stuck in perpetual childhood in the novel is Emily Tallis.