Study Guide

Atonement Versions of Reality

By Ian McEwan

Versions of Reality

When you see "versions of reality," you might start thinking about science-fiction and fantasy and phasers and Jedis and hobbits. There aren't any phasers or Jedis in Atonement, though. The different versions of reality here are more like different perspectives, mixed up with dreams and hopes and fears. Leon's version of reality is one in which everybody is nice and friendly. Emily lies in her bed and imagines what everybody else is doing throughout the house. And of course Briony writes a novel which is one version of reality, telling some things truly and tweaking others. She doesn't put in any hobbits, but she does add a couple of ghosts.

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. In the last few paragraphs of the novel (see our "What's Up With the Ending?" section), Briony talks about earlier drafts of the book. Do you think those drafts would have been better or worse? Would they have been more real?
  2. Is The Trials of Arabella a version of reality? If so, how is it similar or different to the version of reality in Atonement? If not, why not?
  3. Does everybody have their own version of reality? If so, are some versions of reality more real than others? Is Luc's version of reality less real than Leon's, for example? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Briony is a liar who makes up her own version of reality rather than sticking to facts.

The French writer Albert Camus said "Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth." That describes Atonement perfectly.