Study Guide

Atonement

by Ian McEwan

Atonement Characters

List of Characters

Briony Tallis—13-year-old co-protagonist who falsely accuses Robbie of rape.

Cecilia Tallis—co-protagonist who falls in love with Robbie.

Leon Tallis—older brother of Briony and Cecilia.

Emily Tallis—mother of Briony, Cecilia, and Leon.

Jack Tallis—father of Briony, Cecilia, and Leon.

Robbie Turner—Cecilia's lover, son of Tallis's house cleaner.

Grace Turner—mother of Robbie.

Ernest Turner—father of Robbie, who deserts family.

Hermione Quincey—sister of Emily Tallis, mother of Lola and twins.

Cecil Quincey—father of Lola and twins.

Lola Quincey—cousin of the Tallis children who is raped.

Pierrot Quincey and Jackson Quincey—nine-year-old twin brothers of Lola.

Paul Marshall—rich friend of Leon's who rapes Lola.

Mr. Hardman—houseworker for Tallis.

Danny Hardman—sixteen-year-old son of Mr. Hardman suspected of rape.

Betty Tallis—cook and housemaid.

Polly Tallis—cook and housemaid.

Doll—Tallis worker.

P. C. Vockins—local constable.

Corporal Nettle—gentle soldier who takes care of Robbie.

Corporal Mace—large-sized soldier who protects Robbie.

Sister Marjorie Drummond—teaching nun at the hospital where Briony works.

Fiona—Briony's roommate and friend at hospital.

Atonement Character Analysis

Much of the novel is told through the character of Briony. She is only thirteen when the story begins. A lot emphasis is put on Briony's imagination and her confusion. Frequently, Briony is unable to discern between her real and her fictional worlds.

At the beginning of the novel, there is a tendency to portray Briony as an innocent child, unaware of what she is doing. But as the novel closes, Robbie reveals that Briony might have betrayed Robbie. She had seen that Robbie was more attracted to Cecilia than to her.  She was jealous. This revelation changes the perception of the character's motives. Even as a child, she knew right from wrong. 

Briony continues to feel guilty four years after the big event that sends Robbie to jail. She feels that she needs to atone for her sins. This has been brewing inside of her for some time. But not until she has to deal with the wounded soldiers do these thought coalesce. She sees Robbie in the wounded soldiers and finally begins to feel sorry for what she has done to him and how she has ruined her sister Cecilia's life.

In contrast to Briony, there is Cecilia. She is a representative of emotions: a symbol of sexuality, love, passion, and giving. While Robbie is in jail and then later in the war, Cecilia is his guiding light, helping him to hold onto his sanity and bring him home. Just as she used to hold Briony in her arms when Briony suffered from nightmares as a child, Cecilia woos Robbie home with the same whispered sentiment: "Come back. Come back."

Cecilia's character lingers in the shadowy background of the story. Readers feel her presence through other characters just as much as they see her through her experience. Whereas both Cecilia and Briony become nurses, it is Briony that readers see in action at the hospital. In the scenes in which Cecilia is present, most of the explanation of what is going on is comes from other...

(The entire section is 538 words.)