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Discuss how McEwan uses the setting in part one

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Setting aids the reader to understand in depth about the characters and events. They can be used to set an atmosphere or reveal a characters mood. McEwan uses setting as a key part of the puzzle of the novel ‘Atonement’ and it has worked very much in his favour as it makes the novel itself such a great piece to read. In part one of the novel, the setting is held mostly in the Tallis household, (and a scene at Robbie’s house), exploring different parts of the Tallis area which was a property inherited by their Grandfather.

The Tallis household is viewed as an unattractive building by the character of Cecilia, who first describes her opinion of the house in a negative approach, she expresses that ‘Morning sunlight, or any light, could not conceal the ugliness of the Tallis home. ‘ This quote highlights her disgusts for the house structure as she goes on to illustrate the house with a the use of a list of the house feature such as ‘bright orange bricks’ and ‘crumbling stuccoed temple’ which portrays the image of an old broken household.

The use of the list shows that there are many things which are wrong with the household that are distasteful. A reason for Cecilia’s pessimistic description could be her frustration of being kept here and frustrated about her own laziness to make something of her life as she has just left university with and poor grade and no degree. Cilicia also views that if the unpleasant features where ignored ‘the view was fine enough’, McEwan may has used this to communicate Cecilia is trying to avoid obstacles in her life.

Some of the obstacles is procrastinating in her life such as a childhood friend Robbie, it says that she ‘avoided Robbie by hurrying round to the front of the house’ this communicates nervousness around this character and foreshadows that she is avoiding confrontations of her new feels from him. McEwan uses the house as a hiding place for Cecelia which represent that other secrets and feelings are easily hidden in the Tallis household. Also Cecilia is currently in a standstill and she describes the abstract view of the house atmosphere as an ‘unchanging calm’.

This is an indicator to her that she must start her life and she realises that ‘she must be soon moving on’. McEwan’s use of the description of the decaying household mirrors the Tallis family as it appears from the outside this seems like a fine household but when looking more closely at it cracks seem to be visible. This is representative of the family as on the surface everything seam normal but in fact when looks closer into each individual characters ‘cracks’ in their life begin to show which no one else is aware of.

There are several of these in the characters beginning with Briony’s struggle into adolescence, Robbie and Cecelia’s secret romance, the Twins and Lola’s true devastation of their parents’ divorce, Lola’s Rape and pervious attack, and Emily’s marriage falling apart. All these ‘cracks’ foreshadows an inevitable fall which in part one results in Robbie’s arrest due to lack of communication with family members in the household. The setting of the dinner is in the dining hall where all characters are pushed together with their all their own trebles and problems in a confined space, also on an extremely warm day.

McEwan’s purpose of this setting is to provoke reaction between the characters which happened a lot in this scene. Firstly there is an awkward reaction reaction to and jokingly question to Cecelia from Leon. The question was asking of abnormal behaviour due to the hot weather, Leon asked ‘Have you behaved even worse than usual today? ‘ which of course the answer was yes as she had received an rude letter and jumped into a foundation and discover new feeling for Robbie. Cecelia’s self conscience provoked her to make a embarrassed reaction which was noticed by Leon as he said ‘your blushing.

The answer must be yes’, but Cecilia hides and blames this on the setting of the day as she says ‘it’s awfully hot, that’s all’. McEwan setting helps the characters hide their true feelings from each other causing further miscommunication of the situation. McEwan uses the seating of characters by Emily Tallis to show her views of the other characters. The seating of Leon nearest child to her shows the closeness of the relationship and even a rank of favouritism in her children. Briony has been seated further towards the top end of the table of the table than Robbie and with the adults which represents her moving up to the adolescence stage.

But this also shows offence towards Robbie as he is not accepted by her and she disapproves of Jacks support of his education. Due to Jack absence she is able to seat him further down but if Jack was at the dinner he would most defiantly seat him further up, as Briony has described Robbie as Jack’s ‘prodigy’. Emily purposely seats Robbie amongst her sister’s children which symbolises that she does not accept Robbie as part of her family as neither are the children, she has been forced with both relationships to endure these characters. Emily resents Robbie and what Jack has given him.

This explains why Celica does not was their relationship to be exclusive as she must be worried about her Mother’s reaction towards it. Emily is disapproving of her sister’s children as it reminds her of her sister’s reckless behaviour which affects her family’s reputation which she has been left to deal with. Emily goes on to say that ‘hot weather encouraged loose morals’ and that as a child she was kept ‘in the house’ this shows her restricted childhood and strict views. The children remind her of her sister and what she has done which could be interpreted as one of the reason she doesn’t accept them.

The use of the setting of the Closed environment in the dining hall and also the hotness off the day is causing characters to break out such as Briony’s short temper, ‘Hah! ‘ a comment at a remark made by Robbie, which communicates rudeness towards Cecilia and Robbie increasing their heat and nervousness, which is already high by them being seated next to each other after their feelings confrontation. This is shown through McEwan’s use of third person narrative from Robbie as he expresses ‘Cecilia’s bare arm at his side – he could feel its heat’, this shows that his thought process of Cecilia is now sexual which is making him nervous.

Cecilia frustration with Briony’s behaviour, also her having to stay in the dining hall without being able to run away or hide in the house, results in a sudden outburst at Briony. She overreacts to a comment made from Briony about the twins wearing her socks. Punctuation is used here to show anger, as she replies ‘Shut up. For goodness sake! ‘ The use of the exclamation mark shows her annoyance towards Briony and her getting herself involved in places she need not, as Briony has just interrupted her intimate moment with Robbie.

McEwan uses dramatic irony in Emily’s dialogue as she says to the twins ‘No secrets at the dinner table boys’, this is not the case as the audience know that most of the characters in the dining room have secrets but everyone is oblivious to this. The Greek temple in the Island which is surrounded by the lake was meant to be a symbolic replica of a religious artefact. Instead McEwan highlights that this had not been properly looked after and forgotten about ‘ornament so familiar as to be invisible’ by all member of the Tallis family but Briony.

Leon had smashed a window on the Island, which communicates that he doesn’t appreciate what he has got in his high class family and upcoming. Also the lake had been previously used by tramps, also Lola’s rape took place here, this represents that this religious ornament is been tainted as it has been used for incorrect reason. Briony claims an emotional ownership to the Island as ‘she was the only one who ever came here’, McEwan uses this as a representative to how Briony feels as though she has been neglected by the family and forgotten about.

Briony had come away to the Island in the event of her play being cancelled; she took out her frustration by ‘fraying the nettles’. This is explores Briony’s need to control; having her acting in an godlike way towards the characters that she assigns to the nettles as she cuts them down. This links to her need to be a writer, not just in order to express herself, but as a form of control. She needs control within her story, as the older Briony as we find out later.

McEwan uses alliteration in Briony’s description of the Island, this is show in this quote ‘Artificial temple in an artificial lake’, and Cecilia also uses the word ‘artificial’ to describe the lake. The use of this focus on the Island being artificial creates irony as the events that happen on this Island are also artificial. This is really effective use of setting used by McEwan as this Island is where Briony goes to get away and create her stories which are also her imagination, in other words ‘artificial’. Also the significance that that Lola’s rape was set on this on this Island is that again Briony made the event artificial itself.

As Briony accused Robbie as being the rapist by making the statement ‘I know it was him, even though Lola was uncertain saying that ‘I couldn’t say for sure’, But Briony reassures her that she ‘saw him’. This statement was of course artificial such as the other stories which created on this Island; this was nothing but another one of her stories. The Triton fountain also another replica of a fountain in Rome is also described as an unimpressive from Cecilia’s point of view. The foundation was only a ‘half scale reproduction’ and the dolphin and the Triton thighs had ‘improbable scales’, there was also a ‘dark green stain’.

Her criticism here shows her current negative outlook on life as not much positive is described about the household. In the scene Celica goes to the fountain to fill up a Vase which was symbolic to her as it showed hard work and achievement from her uncle and this is something she desires, as she came back from university with an actual degree because women didn’t receive them at that time. There is a tug of war between Cecilia and Robbie over fill up the vase but Cecilia held on very tightly showing her affection of the meaning of the vase and when it broke into pieces she blamed and verbally attack Robbie ‘You idiot!

Look what you’ve done. ‘ The use of the exclamation mark shows her anger towards Robbie. Another reason for why she didn’t let Robbie fill it up for her could be her jealously towards him that he had received a degree and is going on to study further and she is left with nothing. McEwan uses the library for the setting of the sex scene; the library is adults go to educate themselves and to gain knowledge on subjects of interest. The significance of Robbie and Cecilia revealing their feelings for each other is that they are both discovering new feelings f love for each other as it says ‘they were strangers’, like reading a new book.

Also is the subject of education that is bringing them together as Robbie has been talking about doing a six year medical course, and the thought of being apart from Robbie for this long has made Cecelia aware of her feelings for him. They thought that they were alone and hidden in the library as it was unnecessary for anyone to go in there at the time of dinner, but because of the previous events of the letter, Briony had adapted a curios mind for the subject of the ‘adult world’ that she desired to be a part of.

All of the action she made to open the letter had lead a step closer and it is obvious that she craves to know more, as she feels like an adult ‘protecting her sister’ from what she has called Robbie now the ‘maniac. Briony entering the library shows her lust for knowledge about the adult world; the library is not the place for a child, so here she is on her own accord entering unknown territory. All these events which occur have been set on ‘the hottest day in 1935’, McEwan’s purpose of setting it on this day could be to symbolise that this is a very memorable day for all the characters in the novel.

Every character had been affected in same way on this day, and the Tallis household had been completely changed and broken down on this day. McEwan’s purpose of the use of this setting caused the characters to react in the heat of the moment, not as they usually would. Everything was unusual from the day from the cousins arriving, the news of a divorce which was highly unlikely and frowned upon at that time, the twins running away, the rape of Lola, and the fountain scene, all these even had a life changing impact on all the characters.

The setting used in part one was used constructively to build depth into the novel. I find the use of setting makes it very much a more interesting read as I can see more depth into the story every time I read it. There are parts about the set which I didn’t realise meant anything until I had re-read and studied the book. McEwan use of the setting makes the significance of the events more meaningful. As all the events that happen are set in a symbolic to that situation and the setting mirrors the meanings of the characters and the events.

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