Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. How successful is Briony Tallis in achieving “atonement?”
Answer for study question 1 -
This question is extremely opinion based. Briony dedicates her life on writing this novel and telling the story. She also lets Cecilia and Robbie survive and end up together. Towards the end of the book, Briony tells the readers that she was going to take back the statement against Robbie. Throughout part 2 and 3, Briony shows herself in a bad light, especially in part 2 when Robbie is thinking of her and her possible reasons for doing what she did. On the other hand, Briony never actually made up for what she did; she never actually went and took back/changed her statement to the police. With the way that Briony showed herself in a bad light, it could be argued that she was just looking for pity and wanted the audience to feel bad. She also lied when she said that Robbie and Cecilia were alive when they actually both died. She turns their relationship into a love story and she may have done so that Robbie and Cecilia can forgive her, even though they don’t actually forgive.
2. What importance does it have that Emily and Jack Tallis make very few to no appearances in the story?
Answer for study question 2 -
Mr. Tallis’ presence was not very important for the development of the plot hence the reason he is only mentioned and not actually seen. HIs absence may contribute to Briony’s disability of distinguishing between imagination and reality. Also Briony’s mother did not make very many appearances because she was bed ridden with severe migraines for a large portion of a book. There was no one in Briony’s life that taught/guided/instructed her to be able to tell the difference between reality and imagination.
3. Would the reader be more or less likely to grant atonement to Briony, had it not been revealed that she was the one to write the entire novel?
Answer for study question 3 -
This question is also opinioned based. It could be argued that the reader would have been more likely to grant atonement if they did not know that Briony wrote the entire book because the audience would question everything they just read and would no longer simply accept that everything was true. It could also be argued that the reader would have been less likely to grant atonement because then the story would have without Briony trying to fix everything that she had done.
4. Why does Briony compare “author” to “God” at the end of the novel?
Answer for study question 4 -
She compares the author to god because they both have control over the world that they created. Briony always want to be in control and have order, so as the author of the book she is the “God” of her novel because she can tell the story the way she wants it to be told. This is shown when she calls Robbie and Cecilia “her lovers”, when obviously they cannot be hers.
5. What are some characteristics/qualities that Briony has throughout the novel? Keep in mind that the novel shows Briony at three different stages of her life—child, nurse, and dying old lady.
Answer for study question 5 -
While she is a child she is very naïve, immature and very controlling. An example of her controlling nature would be her bedroom and how extremely and disgustingly organized it is. During the scenes between Robbie and Cecilia, she thinks that Robbie must be forcing himself onto Cecilia. An example of her immaturity would be when she reads Robbie’s letter to Cecilia and reads the “c” word. When she is thinking about the word is, she is thinking of rhyming words for the word.
In part 2, Briony starts to mature because she is dealing with a lot of wounded soldiers while she is a nurse. Briony becomes a nurse because she feels like she needs to punish herself, so she becomes a nurse instead of going to Cambridge. In part 3 when she is an old lady, Briony becomes reminiscent and talks about her past and reveals the truth of the story.
- I really like questions 1 and 5, and I think you could provide more detail to each of those responses. Your discussion of when Briony's an "old lady" in Part 3 is a good example of this. You mention in your answer to question 2 that they don't play much of a role, it begs the question, "Why is it a question?" :)
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Discuss whether or not Briony Tallis made the right decision to have Robbie and Cecilia survive the war and reunited after the war.
2.Discuss how McEwan used religion as a literary device in Atonement.
3. Discuss how social class plays an important role in Atonement.
- Good essay topics.