Why does Robbie search for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Atonement by Ian McEwan?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atonement, by Ian McEwan, is set against the backdrop of World War II. Part Two of the novel is told by one of the main characters, Robbie Turner; we follow Turner and two other soldiers as they make their way on foot across France to find the Royal Air Force (RAF). Though Robbie is lower in rank than the other two men (and though he is wounded but does not reveal that fact to the others), Robbie is the unofficial leader of the little group.

Though the novel is unclear about how the men specifically got separated from the others, we can see, as we follow their journey, that the war has created a state of chaos and hundreds of British soldiers are in retreat. They must make their way back to Dunkirk, on the English Channel, so that they can be picked up and returned to England. Robbie and his group, like all the other soldiers on the run, are constantly being pursued by German planes as they make this journey. Despite all the obstacles, Robbie “has one good reason to survive,” and he intends to return home to her. 


sp2011 | Student

Robbie and his friends in the army interfere in an attack on the RAF as there is a man who has become a scapegoat (someone who is punished for the errors of others) for the soldiers' sense of betrayal and rage. This creates more tension in the novel and it also becomes even more interesting to read.

Hope that helps :)