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Thread: A2 coursework help!--Ian McEwans's Atonement

  1. #1

    A2 coursework help!--Ian McEwans's Atonement

    Hey everyone,

    I've been set a title for my coursework, I have some ideas about what to write about in my head. Just wanted to get some opinions of other people and bounce some ideas. The book concerned is Ian McEwans's Atomement.

    “Atonement is a bleak, pessimistic novel, depicting a world in which the innocent are punished and the guilty go free, in which actions can have terrible, unforeseeable and irreversible consequences and in which Chance rules our lives in defiance of any attempt on our parts to shape our own destinies.”

    How far do you find Atonement to be a pessimistic novel?


    Any recommended reviews or interviews around this topic would be greatly appreciated

    Thanks,
    Jenny

  2. #2
    rat in a strange garret Whifflingpin's Avatar
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    I have not read the novel, but, for exam purposes no novel is bleak & pessimistic - even if it is.

    And, going purely by the title, there has to be some kind of justice and/or redemption in this one.
    Voices mysterious far and near,
    Sound of the wind and sound of the sea,
    Are calling and whispering in my ear,
    Whifflingpin! Why stayest thou here?

  3. #3
    I am more confused about what the question means about it being a pessimistic novel? Pessimistic means always expecting the worst outcome, so does the question refer to the narrator being pessimistic or what actually happens in the novel.

    My current ideas have been based upon what actually occurs in the novel not what is written to suggest that the novel is pessimistic. Which one of these two techniques should I go with? Or should I use another technique?

    As a reply to your post Whifflingpin, I don't fully understand when you say 'no novel is bleak & pessimistic - even if it is.'

    There is justice (be it self inflicted) in the novel - however the act of self-retribution also ruins the characters life. Therefore could I argue that even though the self inflicted justice is necessary - it still causes the novel to be pessimistic because it ruins a life?
    I understand this will be really hard to answer because you haven't read the novel

    Thanks
    /J

  4. #4
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Jenny, Whifflingpin is saying that the exam question never wants you to agree with it. It will say something very decisive and extreme, and the answerer's job is not to say 'Yeah, it was pessimistic' but to question the statement.
    Quite an interesting question. You could say that Cecilia and Robbie were given poetic justice by Bryony in the novel- and she considers this closure. She uses her power as the narrator/writer to redeem them, instead of wallowing in self-pity.
    Obviously she couldn't change events in real life, but she did in writing.

  5. #5
    rat in a strange garret Whifflingpin's Avatar
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    "Jenny, Whifflingpin is saying that the exam question never wants you to agree with it. It will say something very decisive and extreme, and the answerer's job is not to say 'Yeah, it was pessimistic' but to question the statement."

    Ah, well that's true too, but all I was saying is that examiners prefer a positive rather than a negative view of any book, so a book should not be considered to be finally pessimistic, or any other negative quality.

    "There is justice (be it self inflicted) in the novel - however the act of self-retribution also ruins the characters life. Therefore could I argue that even though the self inflicted justice is necessary - it still causes the novel to be pessimistic because it ruins a life?
    I understand this will be really hard to answer because you haven't read the novel "

    "Self-inflicted justice" is almost a definition of atonement. Punishment inflicted from outside does not count as atonement (unless it is willingly embraced by the person punished.)
    Now, I still haven't read the novel, but I'd ask "Are you sure the life is ruined? Is it not redeemed? Is it ruined in a way that benefits others - particularly those who suffered from whatever the protagonist is atoning for?"

    "Chance rules our lives in defiance of any attempt on our parts to shape our own destinies.”
    That Chance or the Gods or Fate so rule is a theme that runs through "tragic" literature from its beginnings - "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport." If you cannot get away from the pessimism of the book, then you could bypass that and show it positively as a modern continuation of classical tragedy
    Voices mysterious far and near,
    Sound of the wind and sound of the sea,
    Are calling and whispering in my ear,
    Whifflingpin! Why stayest thou here?

  6. #6
    "You could say that Cecilia and Robbie were given poetic justice by Bryony in the novel- and she considers this closure. She uses her power as the narrator/writer to redeem them, instead of wallowing in self-pity.
    Obviously she couldn't change events in real life, but she did in writing."

    I'm glad we're on the same wavelength here! I have written something similar, however my wording wasn't as clear as yours.

    There are certainly two sides to the question and I have made that clear in the introduction.

    "Are you sure the life is ruined? Is it not redeemed? Is it ruined in a way that benefits others - particularly those who suffered from whatever the protagonist is atoning for?"

    Thinking about it, the protagonist's life is not ruined. She has no way of benefiting those who suffered by her cause so she gives them a fictional 'happy ending'. As far as her life being redeemed the argument could swing either way, I guess I'll write about them both.

    If you cannot get away from the pessimism of the book, then you could bypass that and show it positively as a modern continuation of classical tragedy"

    I really like this idea, something I had not even considered before.

    Thank you very much
    /J

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