Decoding the Coda in Atonement College

In Ian McEwan’s award winning novel Atonement young Briony Tallis must try and make amends for her wrongdoings toward her older sister Cecelia and her love interest, Robbie. At the end of the novel, the short, twenty-page coda entitled “London, 1999” proves surprisingly necessary for the final realizations of the novel to fully occur. Though some would argue that the coda is unnecessary and ruins the fairytale ending McEwan has previously set up for his novel, the information that is revealed in this short final section of the novel does provide a sense of closure. The necessity is revealed through Briony’s words, actions, and ultimate revelation of her final motive.

The closure that develops involves Cecilia and Robbie, Paul and Lola, and Briony herself. Before the coda, the reader is lead to believe that both Cecilia and Robbie, after their lives have been separated by imprisonment and war, have reunited and are living happily ever after: a happy ending that one would expect to occur in any stereotypical novel. In the coda, however, it is casually revealed by Briony that both of the lovers have met their untimely end due to the war: “I can no longer think what purpose would be served if, say, I tried to persuade my reader, by...

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