How is the theme of control explored in Atonement?

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Control can be most readily observed in Atonementby Ian McEwan through the character of Briony Tallis who, at the age of 13, has a crush on her family's housekeeper's son Robbie Turner. 20-year-old Robbie lusts after Briony's sister, Cecilia, and makes this lust transparent through a sexually explicit letter...

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Control can be most readily observed in Atonement by Ian McEwan through the character of Briony Tallis who, at the age of 13, has a crush on her family's housekeeper's son Robbie Turner. 20-year-old Robbie lusts after Briony's sister, Cecilia, and makes this lust transparent through a sexually explicit letter he accidentally shares with Cecilia (intending to send a much cleaner, more gentlemanly version). Prior to reaching Cecilia's hands, Briony lays eyes on the letter and begins to fear for her sister's life. At the naive age of 13, Briony believes Robbie to be a sexual predator.

Later in the evening, Briony's twin cousins leave a note during a dinner party announcing that they have run away. The family commences a search for the boys. While the family frantically searches the grounds, Briony stumbles upon a man raping her cousin Lola. Briony is unable to see the man's face, but given the events that have occurred earlier in the day—the sexually explicit letter to Cecilia and then Cecilia and Robbie having (consensual) sex in the family library—Briony assumes the rapist to be Robbie. Briony accuses Robbie of the act, and he is arrested that night.

Atonement, it is revealed at the very end of the novel, is written by an older version of Briony as a way to atone for her sin of accusing Robbie of rape and subsequently ruining the love and possible relationship he and Cecilia could have shared. Briony uses the act of writing to reclaim control over her past.

The decision that Briony made as a 13 year old had severe impacts on the futures of her loved ones. In her imagined future, Briony writes of the profound love Cecilia and Robbie share, the life they ultimately get to spend together. However, at the end of the novel, Briony reveals the true fates of Robbie and Cecilia:

Robbie Turner died of septicemia at Bray Dunes on 1 June 1940 [and] Cecilia was killed in September of the same year by the bomb that destroyed Balham Underground station.

Beyond this truth telling, she explains to the readers why she left out the real fates of her sister and sister's lover:

How could that constitute an ending? What sense or hope or satisfaction could a reader draw from such an account? Who would want to believe that they never met again, never fulfilled their love?

Writing gives Briony a chance to rejoin the two lovers and give them a second chance. It also gives Briony the opportunity to right her wrong. In Atonement, writing is a powerful method of control, as it controls the ways in which Briony's readers understand her family and her past.

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