Atonement Part 3, Section 2 Summary

Ian McEwan

Part 3, Section 2 Summary

Before going to bed each night, other girls sob with homesickness or write detailed letters home, outlining their rigorous schedules in the hope of garnering sympathy. Briony sees these emotional outbursts as maudlin and writes briskly and minimally to her parents. This is her attempt at independence and it is important to her that her parents know as little as possible about her life; she does not want them, and especially her mother, to know about the lowly chores to which she has been reduced. She assures them she neither needs nor wants her allowance and she is not going to change her mind about her profession as her mother predicted she would.

Emily Tallis’s letters to her daughter are filled with questions to which she never receives answers, plus news of evacuees who have made their family mansion their new home. Emily has taken in the refugees in an attempt to keep her house from being confiscated by the military. The strangers are disrespectful, and all the family’s valuables have been moved to the basement. Betty the housekeeper dropped the family heirloom vase, claiming the pieces had simply come apart in her hands—a story no one believed. Danny Hardman had joined the navy and Briony’s father Jack was working too hard. These letters make Briony a bit nostalgic for a life she once had, but she is adamant about not allowing her immediate family to be part of her life.

Each night since the beginning of her training, Briony writes in her journal for ten minutes before going to bed. Because there is no place to lock her journal, she changes patient names and disguises the staff members in case anyone happens to read her work. Since she is already making things up for these people, she also embellishes and changes who they are and what they do. Later she will regret not keeping a more accurate record of that time, but for now it is the familiar escape, the thing she knows best. Though she is busy all day, she occasionally has the opportunity to do some daydreaming as she looks out the window at the Houses of Parliament. She does not think about her journal; instead she remembers using her uncle’s typewriter to type her long story—one hundred and three pages—which she bundled up and sent to a new literary magazine called Horizon. The work is a new kind of writing, with little concern for plot or characters, something modern novels no longer utilize. The new fiction is a reflection and revelation of the human mind in all its complexities.

There has been no response from the magazine in the past three months, nor has there been any response to a second writing submission. Cecilia had surely received Briony’s letter but has chosen not to respond.