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Atonement: A Case of Traumatic Authorship


Lucian Blaga University, Sibiu


This essay is a close reading of the representation of subjectivity in crisis in Ian McEwan’s Atonement, focusing on three McEwan trademark tropes: ethics, gender roles and intertextuality. Briony Tallis, the protagonist and intradiegetic author of the novel, catalyses a series of competing discursive and narrative levels that thematise trauma, fracture and the need for at onement. The measure of the success of McEwan’s metanarrative experiment is the extent to which the book camouflages its dependence on recognition of traditional novelistic conventions as conventions, rather than as faithful representations of real life experiences. Unlike most of McEwan’s earlier fiction, Atonement thematises moral choice and by setting it against the backdrop of international conflict restores the balance of gender-specific discourse, which would otherwise incline towards a Jane Austen-inspired narrative of domesticity and romance. Ultimately, the novel raises the issue of the ethics of producing representations and foregrounds the formative function of narratives in identity negotiation.

Keywords: Ian McEwan, Atonement, metanarrative, ethics, identity, gender, crisis, trauma, narrative strategy



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