One of the major question raised by Ian McEwan`s novel, Atonement, is whether Briony Tallis does, in fact, atone in any way for her earlier false accusation of Robbie as a rapist. Some of whether we consider her to have atoned has to do with how much we understand atonement in its strict religious sense, in which Jesus` death atoned for original sin, but actual sin required repentance, confession, and specific forms of penance, with God ultimately responsible for absolution. The possibility of absolution depends on the sincerity of Briony’s repentance, whether the confession is real or imagined (the vexed status of the novel makes it complex), and whether her acts of penance are sufficient. McEwan seems to be making the point with the ambivalence of much of the ending that we cannot know, something that fits the theological model in which only God can judge the truths of the human heart.
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