Study Guide

Atonement Compassion and Forgiveness

By Ian McEwan

Compassion and Forgiveness

The name of the book is Atonement, so you know it's a story about trying to get forgiveness for your sins. Those sins are, oddly, mostly about making up stories. And the way you try to get forgiveness is also by making up stories. Briony did wrong by imagining that Robbie raped her cousin. Then she writes a fictionalized novel about how he didn't rape her cousin to atone for it. Paul, on the other hand, doesn't say anything about his own sin from first to last, and doesn't seem to feel the need for forgiveness either. Maybe atonement only works in a story. Just like you can't have a beginning without an end, you can't have forgiveness without a tale that tells you what you did wrong.

Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness

  1. Is Briony's novel an act of compassion? Or is it presumptuous of her to pretend to know what Robbie and Cecilia were feeling?
  2. Besides Briony, Paul, and Lola, who else in the novel commits crimes or sins? Robbie? Jack Tallis? Cecilia? Anyone else? What do they do wrong? How do they go about seeking forgiveness, if at all?
  3. Did Lola forgive Paul? Should she have? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Briony is an awesome person who wrote her novel to make up for what a jerk she was.

Briony is a jerk who wrote her novel to show how awesome she is.