Themes And Literary Techniques In Atonement By Ian Mcewan

The novel Atonement, by Ian McEwan has many stylized and formal characteristics that can be seen in the critical reading. This excerpt uses intertextuality and literally allusions as well as foreshadowing. These techniques are used to demonstrate the importance for writers of critical analysis. McEwan employs intertextuality to enrich Robbie’s worldview and show readers how Robbie deals with his shifting feelings for Cecilia. McEwan refers a number of literary texts that describe Robbie’s view on politics, society and love. McEwan gives a glimpse into Robbie’s childhood and shows the variety of books scattered around his home. McEwan’s references to Gray’s Anatomy along with Robbie’s description in drawing the anatomical arm shows Robbie’s deep love for medicine. McEwan says that Robbie set himself the task “to draw and commit to memory all the bones of the leg”. “The cast for Twelfth Night on college lawn, himself as Malvolio. Cross-gartered” is an allusion to Shakespearean play Twelfth Night. Robbie’s depiction of Malvolio shows how he views love. Robbie sends Cecilia a graphic, uncharacteristic letter. It is a result of the inexplicable affection he has for Cecilia. McEwan allows readers to get a better understanding of Robbie’s past and gives them sympathy for his struggles and triumphs. McEwan discusses Robbie’s humble and honest upbringing alongside Cecilia’s and Briony’s, who were raised in wealth and comfort. Robbie accepts his place within society, and it’s almost comical that he doesn’t seem to mind. Robbie was proud of his upbringing and didn’t let it hinder him. McEwan shows Robbie’s open mind and strong will. He says that “He had his politics and his scientifically-based theories about class to protect him. And his rather forced self-assurance.” McEwan describes Robbie’s determination and independence, and allows readers to empathize with him.

McEwan uses foreshadowing to create symmetry and consolidate his themes in the novel’s chapters. McEwan introduces humiliation throughout the novel while Robbie contemplates Cecilia’s actions. He was humiliated. It was there, the undeniable truth. Humiliation. She desired it for him. He couldn’t afford her sweetness and she was far more than that. His future is now in the hands of Cecilia. Robbie only indulges in Cecilia’s acts because he hopes that Cecilia was acting from affection. However, he riskily surrenders to humiliation as he is wrongly charged with raping Lola. McEwan’s theme highlighting humiliation is reinforced further by Robbie’s acceptance to the wrong accusation. Robbie’s failed attempts to write Cecilia a letter are foreshadowing Briony and her multiple drafts. McEwan makes it possible for his readers to identify the themes within this chapter by using foreshadowing.

Analyzing the excerpt shows that literary techniques are crucial in ensuring audiences receive the right messages. A close reading of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement shows that literary techniques like foreshadowing or allusions can be used to further develop characters and make it easier for the reader to sympathize with them.


  • camdynelliott

    Camdyn Elliott is a 35-year-old educational blogger and school teacher. She has been writing about education for nearly a decade, and her work has been featured on sites like The Huffington Post and The New York Times. Camdyn is the founder of the education blog Education Week, and she is also the author of the book "How to Teach Like a Pro: A Guide to Effective Teaching Methods for College and Career Students."

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