Ian McEwan's Saturday explores one day in the life of a thoughtful and introspective neurosurgeon. What are the most important things Perowne learns about himself and the world he lives in? He has...

Ian McEwan's Saturday explores one day in the life of a thoughtful and introspective neurosurgeon. What are the most important things Perowne learns about himself and the world he lives in? He has several moments of insight, but which do you think are the most significant?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The lessons for Perowne begin on the historical morning of February 15, 2003, historically significant because it was the day of the largest congregation of protest marchers ever to make their voices heard in London; their protest was against Blair's support of America's Iraq attack.

To understand what Perowne became--a lesson learnt is a change in the person--is to understand what he was at 3 a.m. on that February morning as he stood, for a reason that escaped his conscious understanding ("His bedside clock shows three forty. He has no idea what he's doing out of bed...") in front of a raised window looking through the dark night out on a scene he a god-like supervisory possession over: 

with his advantage of height and in his curious mood, he not only watches them, but watches over them, supervising their progress with the remote possessiveness of a god.

Perowne was a successful "master of all he surveyed." He represented the the quintessential Englishman who had inherited through long generations the power to rule and to be able: able to succeed, able to perform with excellent skill, able to establish a contented and profitable English family, able to establish a binding love through the generations of a family. McEwan symbolizes this Englishness by the inheritance of Perowne home: they didn't purchase their home; they inherited it. His power and rights to success were evident at home and with his family, each member of which was independently successful, and at the hospital where he is a renowned and imminently successful neurosurgeon.

From the beginning of that morning, Perowne begins to learn that there is nothing that can survive unshaken--shaken to the roots--even though rooted in English tradition and power. After watching the doomed plane go past, he stands in the dark at the foot of the bed he shares with Rosalind and feels the enormity of the derangement his life has just experienced: "he's somewhat deranged, he keeps floating away from the line of his thoughts." This is the most important thing that Perowne learns about himself and the world: his life can be broken; his world is not inviolate; danger can threaten and do harm no matter who or what or how deeply entrenched a person's good life is.

In some ways, perhaps Perowne's most important insight after the worst of events are finished and he tells Rosalind that perhaps had he behaved differently toward Baxter after the morning's car accident, the horror of the nighttime would not have happened to wreck the peace of their home. If this is his most important insight, it seems to need time to sink into conscious understanding because, no sooner are the words out of his mouth than he thinks again of hostility toward another for disturbing his peaceful, sheltered, privileged life:

    [Perowne] murmured [to Rosalind], "If I'd handled things better this morning, perhaps none of this would've happened. Now jay's asked me in, I feel I ought to go. And I want to go."
    Henry contends with fatherly thoughts, with nascent outrage at this unknown Italian's assault on the family's peace and cohesion, ... At last Daisy's pregnancy ... rises before him in clear light, a calamity and an insult and a waste, a subject too huge to confront or lament, ....

How much for Perowne is, like for Baxter and the 3 a.m. airplane, written and how much can be changed and saved?

It is written. No amount of love, drugs, Bible classes or prison sentencing can cure Baxter or shift him from his course. It's spelled out in fragile proteins, but it could be carved in stone, or tempered steel.

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