What is the setting of the book Atonement, by Ian McEwan? Can somebody please tell how the setting plays an important role in the novel?

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poetrymfa's profile pic

poetrymfa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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There are actually multiple settings within Ian McEwan's novel Atonement. Let us examine them:

  • Part I of the novel begins at the sprawling country estate owned by the Tallis family in England. The year is 1935, and war is looming. Despite this, the family seems to be enjoying the idyllic days—until Jackson and Pierrot run off and Robbie is accused of the rape of the twins' older sister, Lola, an act which he did not commit.
  • Part II of the novel takes place in 1939. Robbie is about to be shipped off to France to fight the Germans in exchange for being let out of prison (he has since been found falsely guilty of the aforementioned attack). He meets briefly with Cecilia in London before departing, at which point we follow his perilous experience in the war.
  • A little later—and again in London—Briony is serving as a nurse, Lola and Paul Marshall (the actual rapist) are about to be married, and Cecilia and Robbie have been reunited. 
  • Part III of the novel is set in 1999 in London, England. Briony, who has been diagnosed with a degenerative mental disorder which will eradicate her memory, is headed to the manor in Sussex, which has since been converted into a hotel. It is revealed that she completely made up Part II of the novel as a means of alleviating—or atoning for—her guilt over allowing Robbie to be arrested for the rape of Lola. Part II of the story is simply part of Briony's novel; in reality, both Robbie and Cecilia died during the war. 

Thus, we can conclude that the settings play an important role in tracing the fates of each of the novel's characters, as well as in further convoluting the truth around the events that occurred in their lives. 

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bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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There are several settings that serve to tell the story of the Ian MeEwan novel Atonement. The story begins in 1935 on the fabulous Tallis family estate in Surrey in Southeast England. The family is in the midst of a celebration but the heat is oppressive and other mysterious problems arise. The time then jumps to 1941, where Cecilia and Robbie meet in London. Robbie then heads over the channel to France, where he will see action against the Germans. The story then alternates between Robbie's military service in France and family matters in England and on the Tallis estate. The Tallis estate serves to show the wealth and power of the family members, while Robbie's horrors in France gives the reader a view of a different side of life--and death.

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