“ To transgress is human ; to forgive, Godhead. ” Alexander Pope ‘s ill-famed words on forgiveness say a batch: everybody makes errors, we all wickedness, we all do hurtful things to one another, and most finally will seek forgiveness. In the 2nd half of his quotation mark nevertheless, Pope makes it clear that forgiveness for our wickednesss is much more hard to achieve than the act itself was to perpetrate. Despite the trouble, many still wish to be forgiven and to hold the ability to do up for their unlawful actions. Ian McEwan explores this facet of human nature in his fresh Atonement. In Atonement, McEwan uses images of H2O as cleansing to research a tenseness rooted in the thought of expiation: Are we truly able to expiate for our wickednesss? Or will the permanent effects make expiation impossible? In looking at two chief characters of Atonement, McEwan argues that no, expiation is non possible.
Water imagination is used by McEwan throughout the novel. Many scenes that are critical to the secret plan involve H2O, like at the fountain and Lola ‘s colza, which happens following to a lake. Robbie and the remainder of the soldiers are going to acquire to the seaboard at Dunkirk. Often, images of H2O represent cleaning ; a character rinsing himself or herself to achieve cleanliness. Robbie and Briony, critical characters to the novel, are most frequently associated with images of H2O. Additionally, these are the two characters that might hold the most for which to expiate ; Robbie deals with holding to go forth Cecilia and being the ground for her cutting ties with her household, while Briony seeks forgiveness and requital for her false accusal of Robbie in Lola ‘s colza. Consequently, images of H2O as cleaning or the act of cleansing with H2O are frequently associated with Briony and Robbie. In portion three, for illustration, Briony becomes a nurse. She washes her custodies extensively, sanitizes the infirmary, and cleans the lesions of injured patients. Robbie besides desires H2O, but in other ways. When he and his squad are heading towards Dunkirk in the retreat, he is non merely invariably thirsty with really limited entree to H2O, but besides uses H2O as a cleaning device. After he takes shelter from a bomb in a soil field, he attempts to rinse the dirt out of his oral cavity with H2O. He besides attempts to sanitise and clean his lesion. Water is a changeless and of import presence through the full secret plan of Atonement.
Water is used in Atonement to typify expiation or obtaining forgiveness for one ‘s actions. It connotes freshness, pureness, and clean newness, much like forgiveness does. The OED defines expiation as “ The status of beingA at oneA with others ; integrity of feeling, harmoniousness, Concord, understanding ” ( OED, “ expiation ” , n ) . This besides supports the thought of atonement being similar H2O. We as worlds are at one with H2O ; it is within us, around us, in the air, and critical to our life. Atonement is besides critical because most seek forgiveness for incorrect that they ‘ve done. From this we can pull the decision that it is associated with expiation. Briony and Robbie are the two chief characters that have wickednesss they must expiate for, and McEwan uses H2O imagination involved with them throughout the novel. Clearly, H2O is something that is critical to life, and it is seen as desirable in Atonement: in portion two, Robbie is perpetually thirsty and seeking out H2O, and Briony in portion three uses it to rinse her custodies really frequently. The importance of expiation is besides seen in the rubric – if the novel is called Atonement, it is an of import subject. Atonement, like H2O, is by and large seen as desirable because people ever want to be forgiven for their wickednesss and to atone for their actions.
Cleansing images affecting H2O frequently follow a state of affairs during which a character does something iniquitous, back uping the thought of H2O being cleansing substance in Atonement. Water can be seen as cleansing both in a moral sense and a more touchable sense. Cleansing in the sense of morality is connected to atonement. Briony has possibly the biggest guilt to expiate for, holding accused Robbie of colza when she knew he was guiltless. Therefore, when she washes her “ chapped and shed blooding chilblained custodies under stop deading H2O, ” she may be seeking to rinse herself of the guilt she holds because of her wickedness. Her efforts at cleansing are n’t working – her changeless handwashing, “ a twelve times a twenty-four hours ” , merely leaves her custodies chapped and bloody. The mending she desires from the cleaning is impossible and her custodies remain chapped. Similarly, the cracked foundation she caused in her sister and Robbie ‘s life and relationship together remain every bit good. At the infirmary, Briony attempts to cleanse and mend others as a nurse. She cleans and dresses the lesions of soldiers and brings them H2O to imbibe. Because Robbie is a soldier himself, it begs the inquiry as to whether Briony is functioning the hurt soldiers H2O and cleaning their lesions in an effort to expiate for her wickednesss. Her shame brings her to this calling as a nurse where she takes attention of soldiers, possibly stand foring her want to assist Robbie. Additionally, Briony and her fellow nurses are frequently shown cleaning the infirmary equipment in a about obsessional mode: “ The mundane pattern of boiling, scouring, buffing, and pass overing became the badge of the pupils ‘ professional pride. ” This changeless lavation, a beginning of pride, possibly will deflect herself from her guilt ; she is trying to rinse away her guilt with H2O. Furthermore, her chosen calling could be interpreted as self-given penalty. Life on the ward is a rigorous and hard one – now she is the 1 taking orders and functioning others, which is a blunt contrast to her old life. Part of the ground younger Briony was so dislikeable was due to her commanding and selfish attitude. The narratives she created were all about her and she used and directed others to play into those narratives. The manner she uses H2O to clean both herself and others represents that she is seeking expiation and wants urgently for her wickednesss to be forgiven.
Robbie ‘s H2O cleaning besides represents his desire for forgiveness and to expiate for his wickednesss. He attempts to utilize H2O to clean, disinfect, and hopefully mend the lesion he received in conflict ; he washes off the crusted blood, non merely to clean the country, but to rinse away the blood that reminds him of the force he ‘s been through. Even when he does n’t hold any H2O, McEwan still associates H2O with Robbie ‘s cleaning: “ [ Robbie ] sat and thought about H2O and tried to clean his lingua against his arm ” , after running for screen from a dropped shell and go forthing behind a adult female who, excessively paralytic with fright, refused to acquire screen for her and her immature boy. Soon after, he discovers that they died when he saw merely a charred hole where they had been earlier. When he eventually finds H2O subsequently, he realizes he should n’t blow any that could be slaking his thirst by rinsing his oral cavity and imbibe the soil with the cloudy H2O, possibly to cleanse himself of the horror of what he ‘d merely seen. Subsequently, Robbie uses H2O to rinse his face, “ altering the H2O to rusty brown ” . In this transition, McEwan is doing it clear that Robbie was successful at rinsing his face, since the soil is no longer on his face, it ‘s in the H2O. Possibly he has successfully achieved expiation.
Although our characters attempt to utilize H2O as a cleaning device, H2O is non really utilised well for cleansing in the fresh Atonement. Briony attempts over and over to rinse away her wickednesss, as shown in her ageless manus lavation, but they are n’t of all time clean plenty because she can ne’er halt rinsing them. Her efforts to expiate for her wickednesss are n’t effectual, as she ne’er genuinely washes her custodies of her guilt and the harm she has inflicted on other people, like Robbie and her sister. Evidence of this is seeable in her chapped and chilblained custodies, a painful representation of her wickedness. Although Robbie ‘s cleansing efforts might be more successful than Briony ‘s, he excessively is unable to pass over away his actions and their reverberations. Although he is able to rinse the soil from his face, it lingers in the H2O, turning it brown and cloudy. We know that the cleaning of his lesion failed, as he died from the ensuing infection. However, McEwan writes, “ When he was done he felt a pleasing elation in the air around him which slipped silkily over his tegument and through his anterior nariss ” ( 226 ) .
McEwan argues that no affair how urgently person wants to expiate for their actions, their efforts at expiation are ineffectual and true expiation is non possible. Water, like alteration, is an ever-present substance in our lives. A individual ‘s actions and the subsequent effects remain everlastingly, seen in grounds that H2O does n’t ever genuinely cleanse. Although expiation is desirable, it ‘s non realistic. When Robbie washes his face and dirties the H2O, it represents that his wickednesss and errors will ever be with him. Although they are gone from his face, they wo n’t truly travel off. He can non alter the yesteryear, but merely travel frontward. Likewise, Briony can non alter her yesteryear either, every bit much as she wishes she could take back the awful thing she did. Her despairing privation for expiation is shown in her occupation as a nurse where she must function others and assist hurt soldiers, but this still does non do up for the yesteryear ; she can non accomplish expiation. This is can be seen as she washes her custodies extensively to no help, they are ne’er genuinely clean. Similarly, she can non do her past truly clean because her wickednesss will ever be at that place, as will her memories of the awful things she has seen in the infirmary. We merely have to look at her natural and cracked custodies as a reminder that her wickednesss, memories, and yesteryear are all still with her. Her wickednesss remain with her and can non be healed.
Even if we can non alter the past and can non truly achieve expiation, as seen in Ian McEwan ‘s Atonement through images of H2O, that does n’t intend that we can non alter our actions in the hereafter. A few words from Paul Boese exemplify this well: “ Forgiveness does non alter the yesteryear, but it does enlarge the hereafter. ” It is impossible to accomplish expiation and alter the yesteryear, but we can travel frontward. We see this besides in Atonement – although Robbie was non given the alteration to travel frontward with his hereafter, Briony told the narrative of her errors in a novel for 1000000s to read. The narrative Atonement serves as a lesson for the hereafter non to reiterate errors that can non be reversed even if true expiation can non be achieved.