Does innocence play a part in Atonement?

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luke-t eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atonement is a novel written by Ian McEwan in 2001. This book is divided into two distinct parts. In very broad terms, the first part describes a young girl's loss of innocence after she witnesses a traumatic event. The second half goes into detail about how the actions of Briony, the young girl, affect her family and friends.

In regards to your question, the answer is yes. The theme of innocence plays a large role in both the events that unfold and the development of characters in the story. Let's take the character of Briony as an example. When she is first introduced to the reader, we are given a glimpse of her maturity, especially when compared to the characters of Jackson and Pierrot. Despite this, we are soon reminded of her innocence and young age when she reads the letter written by Robbie intended for Cecilia. Having read the sexually charged letter, Briony concludes that Robbie is a lustful and aggressive monster. This thought is only confirmed when she stumbles upon Cecilia and Robbie in the library later.

Clearly, Briony's innocence and lack of experience play a significant role in her reactions to Robbie and his letter. Had she known the context of his and Cecilia's situation, it is doubtful that she would have blamed Robbie for the heinous act that occurs later in the book. Briony's false judgement about this act, brought in part due to her innocence, is what ultimately sets the later events of the novel in motion, including Robbie's involvement in the war.