When a person has already seen Death—seen it once, at least—you'd think she'd remember whose shoulder it had been sitting on. But this particular person did not. (5.143)
Here's one of the first examples of Briony's confusion (which leads to our confusion) when it comes to her memory. Though many of the things she has trouble remembering happened within the past few years, Briony does not seem to think this weird. Why do you think her past few years are so fuzzy and confused?
You can outrun your memories, but sometime, you will have to stop. And when you do, there will always be Stepmother, waiting to be remembered. (11.63)
What does it mean when you block out memories of a specific person? Usually not anything good. Nearly all of Briony's memories seem to be linked to or influenced by her stepmother, and this is especially the case when it comes to her guiltiest and most painful memories.
"Do you want the version of the story in which I'm a hero, or do you want the true version?"
"Both," said Eldric. (12.92-93)
What a weird thing to say, Briony—most people prefer the truth. Still, Briony mentions versions of stories because she believes there is a true version and a version she tells people to protect herself.
Here's where my account of the fire diverges from the truth. I had, indeed, been writing, but the Horrors alone know what possessed me to stumble into the library. What made me call up the fire? (12.96)
Again Briony asks herself questions about her recent past that would be easier to answer if her memories were not split and cloudy. Anyone else having trouble answering these questions she keeps asking? That's probably because Briony makes sure we know even less than she does about the truth.
But after Eldric had finished, the reflection-slices returned. I saw Stepmother and the white pillow and the black hair and blood and spit. I saw myself too, saw my own bird hands holding a spoon. My hands were feeding Stepmother. (13.81)
Reflection slices? Is that like slices of a mirror? Not exactly… More than once, memories of Stepmother on her deathbed come to Briony in slices, or incomplete pieces. She continually tries to avoid these memories as they often make her feel sick to her stomach.
The smell of sickness had infected the room. I memory-smelled it, a bloated oozy smell, toad-scum, stagnant water. It crimpled the underside of my tongue. I memory-smelled eels. Eels in eel broth. That was a sick-making smell. Where was my mint-and-apple Brownie? (20.49-50)
What's that smell? Briony refers to "memory-smell," which seems to suggest that there is something she cannot or will not remember that has to do with eels. These hints of Briony's past prove there might be something else dark lurking there. How do eels smell anyway?
Memory is a queer thing. The smell of paraffin—why would I remember that? I'd called up the fire; I wouldn't have needed paraffin. (22.287)
Here comes that smell again… Briony tries not to think about certain things, but it seems like she keeps catching whiffs of things that remind her of missing or repressed memories. Here her memory of this smell conflicts with what she thinks happened that day. What do you think happened?
My memories had grown distorted over time. But I had them, at least: I remembered calling up the fire, I remembered turning Mucky Face against Stepmother, I remembered turning the wind against Rose. But I don't remember turning anything against Eldric. (22.290)
When she says that her memories have grown distorted, she writes off a very real problem like it's nothing. She doesn't fool us, though—something is super off.
"This is where you have to forget you're Briony Larkin," says Eldric. "Forget that you're clever, that you always have the right answer. The only right memory is the one that first comes to you." (31.63)
Suspecting Briony's trouble with two wildly different memories, Eldric pushes her to tell the truth. Thankfully one of these two has some sense.
I shall have to reverse the false memories that Stepmother stomped into my brain. You're a witch! She trod out paths to memories that never existed. You hurt Rose. She trod them out over and over, so they appeared to be real, even though they led to nothing at all. (32.9)
After learning that Stepmother lied to her and convinced her to believe she was and did things that she is not and did not, Briony realizes that she must work to undo what her stepmother did to her.
The gentlemen had gotten on to talking about Mr. Clayborne's official business, which was to drain the water from the swamp. This was going to improve life in the Swampsea, at least according to Queen Anne. (3.46)
Okay, so the Queen says this is going to be a good thing, but won't this also force those who are accustomed to their way of life in Swampsea to make big, uncomfortable changes?
"Are those paper clips?" I'd seen them in catalogs, but the pictures don't do them justice. They're beautiful, in an industrial sort of way. (3.52)
Paperclips are so new that they can be thought of as beautiful, though Briony also quickly modifies her assessment but noting their beauty is sort of "industrial."
The London I'd never see, strung with electric wires and brilliant with switch-on lamps. I've always wondered whether they string lamps into the lavatories, or do even Londoners think they are certain things best left in the dark? (3.80)
Briony's fascination with electric wires and switch-on lamps highlights how technology can drastically change a way of life for people—and to answer her question, yes, the lights go into the bathroom.
He wouldn't have seen any of the Old Ones: So many had died in the great cities [...] it was the machines and metal making them sick, killing them. (6.76)
Sad to know that as the world continues to develop, the old ways of magic will slowly die away. Is modernization really a good thing here?
The Boggy Mun had ruled the swamp since before our human time began. [...] He could be kind, he could be savage. He could kill with the swamp cough, and why not, when his water was stolen away? (7.38)
It can be hard to imagine a time before humans, technology, and modernization, but before all of that nature ruled. Boggy Mun and the swamp cough represent nature fighting back against human ways that threaten the very existence of the natural world. They're on team Mother Earth.
He says there's nothing to do when the cough gets bad, save for injections of strychnine to stimulate her heart. And morphine, of course, morphine at the end, to ease her passing. (9.87)
Instead of trying to cure her illness, the doctor has to resort to simply making her death less painful. Technology may be advancing, but nature can still win.
The pumping station was already being rebuilt. As soon as it was all brash and red-brickibus, Rose would fall ill. I had another plan, though. We could stow away on the London-Swanton line. (12.71)
Losing faith in her ability to stop or even slow down this next development in their town, Briony plans instead to use their modern technology to escape. Is it hopeless to fight against modern developments?
Each wheel was a spun-candy confection of metalwork. In front, protuberant car eyes peered from protective brass hoods. A brass eagle perched on her nose. (25.23)
The motorcar here is a direct representation of the new modern world—everyone is enamored with this new machine, and even Briony (an Old One) says she is in love with it. How quickly humans become interested in the newest thing.
They'll drain the swamp into a scab. The Old Ones will have nowhere to live. And if that doesn't kill them, industry will. [...] The Old Ones can't survive a world filled with metal. They can't survive the clatter and growl of machinery. (32.157)
This is a sobering take on the direction that technology and modernization will take their town. Humans develop these new technologies with the idea of making things better, but they are often sacrificing more than they truly know. Which again begs the question, is it all really worth it?
For days and days, we'd watch the sun rise over fields of plain brown earth, and we'd turn about and go home. But one morning, the sun would rise in fields of green mist, and we'd stay to welcome the earth. We'd tell her how glad we were she'd awakened once again. (32.49)
By describing what they used to do to greet the spring, Briony remembers the townspeople's connection with nature fondly. This ritual, along with regard for the swamp and the life it sustains in general, has gotten lost along the years.
I was suddenly aware of him, of the overwhelming Eldricness of him, of his busy London blood pumping just inches away. (3.103)
Quickly contradicting her promise not to ever be interested in boys, Briony responds to Eldric's manly presence. When she mentions his pumping blood she is focusing on the way his physical body functions and not on her emotions or thoughts.
Was Eldric thinking of those witchy girl-parts too? Had he ever seen those bits of a girl before? Most girls would blush to think such thoughts, but when you've been as wicked as I, you don't have any blushes to spare. (5.47)
Again revealing her attraction to Eldric, this question leads Briony to think about sexual thoughts in relation to Eldric's past. Get your mind out of the gutter, Briony.
On Blackberry Night, the lads and lasses run barefoot through the swamp, pretending to try to catch the Devil; but it would appear the Devil catches them instead, for they consume quantities of beer and wine, and they shed their clothes, and there are always a number of surprise weddings come Advent. (16.78)
Blackberry Night is essentially a night where teenagers can explore their lustful feelings. The metaphor of chasing the Devil suggests that they are looking for an excuse to do something morally wrong—and later, when girls become pregnant, it's time for a shot gun wedding to please their judgmental friends and family.
This was the wrong thing to say. It was provocative. It made Cecil lean in still farther and say, "Do you," with a most unpleasant inflection on the do. (16.90)
Cecil clearly feels lustful feelings toward Briony, and when she unintentionally flirts with him, he continues to flirt. Bummer for Cecil, though, she's just not into him.
"Don't touch my daughter!" Father's scratch-lips ripped apart. (18.16)
Worried that the two teens have given in to their desires, Briony's father overreacts to their so-far innocent relationship. Though there is potential for attraction between Briony and Eldric, their friendship is so tame at this point that they are both surprised and offended at the accusation. Well, Briony is mostly not paying attention but Eldric is offended for the both of them.
His hands crunched into my wrists. Too hard! His lips pressed into my lips. Too hard! My lips pressed against my teeth. His man's weight pressed against my girl froth; his chest crumpled my girl-lungs. (21.24)
Cecil gets out of hand, and pushes himself on Briony even though she's not interested. Lust isn't always a good thing, and in the wrong person, it can get downright dangerous.
Remember what Father had said about Fitz? About not leaving me alone with him? The effect of arsenic on men—that was surely the reason. (22.215)
Briony realizes that even though she didn't know it, her father was protecting her from the lustful danger of an addicted man when he fired her tutor.
I was asking about lust, wasn't I? I was fairly certain of it. But isn't love supposed to come before lust? It does in the dictionary. (24.111)
Oh, the hormones—Briony's questions about love and lust are new to her because she has never felt either, but also because she does not have the guidance of someone who has been through this before.
There was one difference between Eldric and Cecil, a difference peculiar to Briony Larkin, and that was lust. I lusted after Eldric; I shuddered away from Cecil. (26.14)
Briony confuses her love for Eldric with pure lust, so when she says she lusted for Eldric and not for Cecil, she could easily replace the word lust with love and still be truthful. Her dislike of Cecil also comes from his disrespectful pursuit of her.
Except when a person acts like Cecil, and worries about his own manliness, and thinks it a good thing to show a girl he's manly, because girls love strong men, of course they do, they love it when someone hold their wrists too hard, and makes their lips bleed, and crushes out all their lace and froth and gleam. (32.252)
Even the best boys can be a bit scary to girls, and Briony scolds Eldric for acting lustfully toward her like Cecil did. Again she feels fearful in response to the aggressiveness of a lustful man. Eldric, however, has shown her loving sensuality before, and she desires the same from him again.
I'm not an ordinary girl, pining after romance and a husband. May the Horrors take me if ever I grow ordinary, like Pearl! (3.22)
Briony expresses the same disdain for love and romance that many girls do before they fall in love for the first time. She (a bit dramatically perhaps) suggests that she wants to be taken by evil spirits if she "grows ordinary."
It wasn't quite a question. It was more of an invitation to tell him whatever I chose. I could talk about Petey, I could not talk about Petey. […] Eldric gave me a choice, and it was this that made me want to tell him everything. (10.128)
Eldric's patient approach with Briony allows her to slowly let her guard down with him, and by being her friend first, he is able to win her trust and affection without making her feel pressured or defensive. Good move, Eldric.
It feels as though it's been months since Eldric arrived, but it's been only five weeks. If you want to stretch out your life, here's my advice. Look about for new experiences, lots of them. It slows down time. (12.2)
Here we start to see Briony's feelings toward Eldric develop. Pro tip: friendship is the key to a complicated person's heart. Briony's feeling that Eldric has been there for longer comes from a sense of closeness and comfort that she has developed with him.
He reached through the window, his beautiful hand, his five beautiful fingers outspread. If I were a poet, I'd write about hands, nothing but hands. I touched the whorled petals of my fingertips to his, our hand made the roof of a house. (17.2)
By observing his hands and calling them beautiful, Briony shows her hand (no poker face for this love bird). She goes on to talk about poetry and touching her fingertips to his, tell tale signs of falling in love.
I thought of offering him my wrist. It needed to be cradled and rocked and lullabied. I turned, but my cheek got in the way of his lips. He melted his lips into my skin. Not a kiss, a melt. I could allow a melt. That wasn't what Cecil tried to do. (21.42)
Though it might be a bit babyish, this desire to have Eldric literally baby her comes from a need for a nurturing type of love. When thinking about needing this type of love from him, Briony receives a kiss that is different from Cecil's because it is more gentle and loving than lustful.
Funny how I'd started off feeling so comfortable with Eldric last spring, but that now prickly little pauses kept growing between us. (25.89)
As Briony's feelings change from comfort and friendship to love and romance, her interactions with Eldric start to become more awkward. It's classic teen rom com material.
Girl he loves. My face was raw. I cradled it in my hands. Give me a mask, any mask! I swung my hair forward. […] What was I to do? I wished I could love, how I wished! (27.44-46)
Finally we get a romantic moment, though when Eldric admits his love to Briony, she is not ready to receive it. She thinks this is because she cannot love, but it might have more to do with her lack of self-love and confidence.
I wish he'd help lay down new brain paths for me and scuff out the old. I wish he'd tell me how perfect I am, just as Father did when I was small. (32.85)
Now knowing about the negative self image that was built by her stepmother, Briony begins to want to show herself love. She wishes that Eldric could help her, because she knows his love is one that is true and nurturing like the love she remembers from her father.
"I love a person for communion, communion with wine and coats and help and trust--even if that person feels he's doing all the trust and gets grumpy. […] I love it that I make him laugh—"
There are no end to the things I might say. I feel my heart unfolding. I've felt that unfolding before, but I haven't let it be real. (32.247-249)
Briony doesn't expect to be able to return Eldric's love, let alone describe all of the things she loves about him in detail. Once she starts though, she is unable to stop listing all of the things she loves about him. Aw…
Word magic. If you say a word, it leaps out and becomes the truth. I love you. I believe it. I believe I am lovable. How can something as fragile as a word build a whole world? (32.280)
Just as she had wished earlier in the chapter, Eldric's love for her helps Briony begin to change her self-image. Instead of thinking of herself as evil, wicked, and hate-worthy, Briony now begins to think of herself as deserving of love. This one revelation has the power to change her whole world.
How can you possibly think me innocent? Don't let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart. (1.4)
Nice to meet you, Briony—it's not common to introduce yourself by trying to convince us that you're guilty and not to be trusted, but at least we know right away that our main girl is carrying a lot of guilt in her heart.
I was obliged to stay in the Swampsea to care for Stepmother. Rose and Stepmother. And the worst of it is that I have only myself to blame. (3.38)
And so the blame game begins. Early on we learn that Briony blames herself for most of her family's troubles as well as for her own unhappiness—but by blaming herself, she does not leave room to consider other influences on her life and her circumstances.
I'm the one who should apologize. I don't exactly blame myself for Stepmother's death. I didn't feed her arsenic, and it was arsenic that killed her. But I did cause her to injure her spine. She might have died from that if the arsenic hadn't gotten to her first. (3.44)
Wow—Briony really is carrying a ton of guilt and blame. Guess she wouldn't have a lot of room left to think about boys and clothes and other girly things. How would you handle all this guilt?
When you hate yourself, you don't neglect your responsibilities. When you hate yourself, you never forget what you did. (3.112)
These could be lyrics for a pretty good teen angst song. Using guilt and self-hatred, Briony constantly reminds herself to be responsible and take care of Rose—so this self-hatred serves a purpose, though it also keeps Briony from seeing any positives in herself.
I lay in bed, listening to Rose cough. It was a wet, skin-scraping cough, very different from her earlier cough. Rose had never had the swamp cough. I was a fool. (9.98)
Briony's guilt causes her to take matters into her own hands, and because she feels she alone is to blame, she does not turn to anyone else for help. Unfortunately, this leads her to causing Rose real harm. And then, realizing she is to blame for her sister's deadly sickness, Briony feels even guiltier than she did before.
They'd throw stones at me, too, once I was in jail. But at least I was a witch and deserved it. (10.49)
Briony continually reiterates her feelings of guilt as well as the negative fate she feels she deserves because of it. Has she ever heard of positive self-thoughts?
A witch does not make a good friend. Let's remind ourselves how this particular witch works:
She is near a person, she is jealous of that person, that person falls from a swing and bashes her head. The witch meets a person on Blackberry Night. There ensues a shriveled-pea of a situation, and that person falls ill. (22.65-67)
Briony replays the various things for which she feels guilty and worthy of blame, and this serves to keep Briony from truly getting close to others. Sorry Rose, Dad, and Eldric—this seat's saved for guilt.
I only wished I could tell Eldric that what he wanted was to watch out for me. (22.293)
Briony is not ultimately to blame for Eldric's sickness, but she has become accustomed to blaming herself for any harm that comes to those she loves. Yet another stumbling block in their love story…
It's one thing if a person learns you're a witch. It's quite another if he learns you're a murderer. I almost forget I'm a witch now that I know I'm a murderer—murderess, actually. Murderess sounds so much worse. (31.7)
After learning she has poisoned her stepmother (brief break for cheering), Briony adds another fact to her long list of reasons to feel guilty. This new revelation actually overshadows the other things she has felt guilty for.
I am stomping out new memory paths. It is difficult. There are too many I am wicked paths crossing and crisscrossing my memory. I don't believe the nice things I say to myself. (32.1-2)
The guilt and blame that Briony has carried with her for years makes it difficult for her to believe anything positive about herself, which shows the immense and potentially damaging power of these feelings.
Stop now, Briony: That sounds like jealousy, and you know what happens when you get jealous. Your witchy jealousy breeds firestorms, gales, floods—disasters of Biblical magnitude. Wouldn't father be proud! (4.58)
Briony envisions physical damage that can happen due to her magical powers mixing with jealousy. She references the Bible, linking the power of her jealousy to that of a jealous God. Though her fears of disasters of "Biblical magnitude" may be unwarranted, jealousy certainly can cause damage.
When you're jealous, your spit turns to acid. When you're jealous, you eat yourself from the inside out. (4.118)
Okay, Briony is playing a poet here. She discusses the internal damage caused by jealousy, using two metaphors to express the pain, suffering, and emotional destruction that can be caused by this emotion.
Jealousy makes you feel small as a splinter. Jealousy makes you feel empty, makes you want to reach for the Brownie. (5.93)
When Briony says jealousy makes "you feel empty," she is really saying that it makes her feel empty. By mentioning wanting to reach for Brownie in relation to jealousy, she leaves us wondering if she wants Brownie for comfort, to help her do damage through magic, or both.
The clever Briony knows that when she enters the swamp, people die. The clever Briony intended that Rose contract the swamp cough. She has always been jealous of Rose. This to her is the third strand of Hell. (9.103-104)
When Briony fails to save her sister (actually putting her in harm's way instead), she convinces herself that she did it on purpose out of jealousy. She seems convinced that this is true, but also describes it as "the third strand of Hell," leaving us to wonder why Briony would do something that causes her so much pain.
But she didn't breakfast with Eldric every morning, as I did. She didn't laugh with him as they expanded their bad boy Latin vocabulary. She didn't have boxing lessons with him, and surely, he never admired her fist. Did he? (14.69)
As she begins to have feelings toward Eldric (whether they are friendship or love feelings remains to be decided) Briony also begins to notice the attention he gives to Leanne. She tells herself things like this to lessen her feelings of jealousy.
There are no preconditions for jealousy. You don't have to be right, you don't have to be reasonable. (16.145)
When she notes that you don't have to be right or reasonable, Briony is admitting that her jealousy toward Leanne and Eldric may not be either. She goes on to compare the situation to Othello, suggesting that though she isn't right or reasonable, she wouldn't mind seeing Leanne dead.
I was jealous, wasn't I? I wanted to be Eldric's only friend. But that's not the way the world works, Briony. You have only one friend, but regular people have dozens.
Yes, I was jealous. I was practicing one of the seven deadly sins (although it doesn't actually take much practice). (16.94-95)
Briony admits her jealousy to herself, but frames it as a friendship-type jealousy. We're not convinced that's all that's at play here, but props to Briony for admitting at least part of the truth. When she says jealousy doesn't take much practice, she is admitting that she has felt this emotion easily and often.
I'd had visions of Eldric and Leanne on the hayride. Drinking from the same thermos; sharing a blanket; and when their fellow hay-riders left, lingering, perhaps, in the hay— (20.69)
The jealousy that Briony feels causes her thoughts to create and replay a painful vision of reality for her. By thinking of these things in detail, Briony's jealousy is essentially punishing her with heartbreak.
Cecil's lips were wet. "By God, you'll kiss me too!" Kiss me too! Fear whispered at the margins of my thoughts. (21.21)
Cecil has been jealous of Eldric since he first saw Briony and Eldric in the same room together—and he has never tried to conceal or control his jealousy, and this night is no different. What is different, however, is that he combines his jealousy with lust to make a very dangerous situation for Briony.
"Leanne, worried about you?"
Eldric punched at the you as though he were boxing with it. The punch came like a kick to the breastbone. I shrugged as though to say, Believe what you like. But I had no breath to speak. (23.84-85)
When Briony suggests that Leanne could have tried to harm Briony out of jealousy, Eldric's response hurts Briony. By not even considering Briony a threat to Leanne, Eldric is basically saying he doesn't see Briony that way, which stings like hearing let's just be friends from your crush.
I hate when Father puts on a show, pretending we're the kind of family that chats and gossips and laughs. (2.35)
Briony's feelings toward her father show that they have a strained relationship. But don't fall for her show, either—getting mad about her father's pretending comes from a place of disappointment, which leads us to believe she wishes her family was closer.
Now Eldric would look at us and pity our shattered, fragile family and our shabby, childish clothes; and I'd be obliged to hate myself, and to hate him too. (2.49)
By making this assumption, Briony proves her own insecurities about her family. She plans to hate poor Eldric (who didn't actually say anything about her family or their clothes) because she is protective of her family.
I've looked after Rose for years and years, and she drained me dry long ago. What's she feeding off now, I wonder. My soul juice? (2.63)
What have you given up for your family? What have they given up for you? Soul juice? Briony's sense of responsibility toward her sister, though she tells herself it's because of guilt, leads her to make sacrifices no young person should have to make. Still, many people give up their own wants and needs for their family.
It was as though the Claybornes shared a silent language, which was utterly unlike the way we Larkins shared silence, which was not at all. We don't share anything. (3.25)
This is another hint at Briony's true wishes for her family—she compares the Claybornes to her family because she is jealous of the love and closeness they have. Be careful with jealousy, Briony—and Shmoopsters, be sure to read about jealousy elsewhere in this section.
"A father tends to be disappointed," said Eldric, "when his son has achieved the great age of twenty-two and failed to graduate from university." (3.31)
Ever have a fight with your parents over school? This common family issue causes distance in plenty of families. Luckily Eldric and Mr. Clayborne have a strong bond, though there are still little comments made here and there that confirm their family is not perfect.
I wish I might have known Mother. I wonder whether I'd have taken such a very wicked path if she hadn't died when we were born. She knows I'm a witch, I suppose. I imagine her looking down on me and shaking her head and sighing. (7.18)
Losing her mother put Briony in an obviously vulnerable place. Here Briony suggests that maybe that mother-child bond could have saved her from becoming wicked.
He wasn't going to flatter me into singing with him. He couldn't disappear for three years, then go all smiles and rainbows and expect the same back. (8.140)
Already abandoned (in a sense) by two mother figures, Briony feels angry toward her remaining parent for what she perceives as him abandoning her for three years. We feel kind of bad for the Reverend Larkin, though, as he tries and tries again to get close with his snarky daughter.
"If your stepmother really wanted you to march forth," said Eldric, "she shouldn't have accepted your—well, I won't say sacrifice." (12.61)
Nosy newcomer Eldric points out holes in Briony's story about her angel stepmother almost immediately. His insistence irritates Briony, and even causes a few fights between them, but in the end also leads to Briony's freedom.
Our parents teach us the very first things we learn. They teach us about hearts. What if I could be treated as though I were small again? What if I were mothered all over again? Might I get my heart back? (32.256)
This brief Briony insight speaks to the importance of family in forming a positive self identity (more on that elsewhere in this section). When Briony asks about being mothered again, she refers to the nurturing, loving relationship a mother provides to her children. Briony is not like the tin man, though—she has a physical heart, it's just super out of practice.
I tried to disbelieve Stepmother when she told me I'm a witch. [...] pecking at the proof Stepmother offered—pecking at it, turning it over, saying it didn't exist. Then pecking at another bit, and another, until Stepmother took pity on me. If I wasn't a witch, she asked, how else was it that I had the second sight? (4.39)
At first Briony attempted to hold onto a positive self-identity, but over time Stepmother wore her down. Point for evil stepmothers everywhere. This shows how Briony's identity was changed through her stepmother's manipulation.
I'd have to keep on my Briony mask. I'd have to keep my lips greased and smiling. I'd have to keep my tongue sharp and amusing. Already, I was exhausted. (2.60)
What does this say about what Briony thinks about herself? What does it show about what she thinks others will think of her? We're exhausted too, just trying to figure out who the Briony behind the mask is!
Adults tend to view me as being mature beyond my years. I think it has partly to do with being a clergyman's daughter, partly to do with looking after Rose, and partly to do with being rather clever. But I can't take credit; I'm stuck with all of it. (3.30)
Briony acknowledges a positive aspect of her identity, but quickly disregards this as not being something she can take credit for. Again and again, she refuses to think positively about herself.
Father was delighted that his daughter was acting like a regular girl, playing hostess and chatting to a young man. (3.50)
Briony repeatedly references this idea of a regular girl in comparison to her. What does she think regular means, and why doesn't she think it applies to her?
I mustn't get back to thinking of myself as princess, or wolfgirl. All the silly things I used to imagine. Stepmother was right. It doesn't matter that you look like a princess on the outside. You're a witch on the inside and nothing will change that. (3.88)
So Briony used to think of herself positively, which is good news. Would she still think that way if it hadn't been for her stepmother?
Could it be that I truly wanted to save Mr. Dreary? I doubted it, but I'd go. I hadn't the knack of only pretending to do as Father wished. Did I want to save Mr. Dreary? I'll never know. We witches don't go in for self-knowledge. (5.153)
Confused much? By saying she doesn't know herself or her intentions, Briony reveals that whatever identity she has built is not based on truth or introspection. Instead, Briony continually doubts and devalues herself.
You're looking very well. How stupid you sound, Briony! You speak just as Father might. (22.216)
A huge part of Briony's negative identity comes from her internal monologue, and this is just one example (out of many) of her speaking to herself critically. She does this shmoop all the time.
She thought she was a wolfgirl who could run forever. But the wolfgirl has never darted and dodged. The worlfgirl is ready to give up after five minutes. But she's proud and carries on, and now she thinks she may need to be carried home. (23.9)
Ding, dong the witch is dead (or at least temporarily forgotten)… Through her relationship with Eldric, Briony returns to her identity as wolfgirl and moves away from her singular identity as a witch. She is frustrated with herself because her physical capabilities don't live up to her only positive identity.
I do worry about him. I worry that he has horrid feelings about having lost his hand, his dominant hand. He was a boy-man who boxed and fidgeted and climbed roofs, and now—What does he say to himself when he's alone? (32.25)
Having dealt with negative self-identity before, Briony knows a lot about doubting yourself. How is Eldric's situation the same or different from Briony's?
It was certainly liberating to learn I'm not a witch. To learn I hadn't hurt Rose, or even Stepmother, at least not with Mucky Face as my weapon. (32.93)
Briony describes knowing that she is not a witch as liberating because there is a sense of freedom in not attaching yourself to a negative identity. Finally, right?