How does the characters relationship to the past contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole?


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Everyone shapes their own future whether you believe in fate, destiny, or even karma. But sometimes meddling in another’s affairs will leave you almost unscathed while the people around you come out worse than ever. In Atonement, the character Briony Tallis lets her imagination run wild when she witnesses the actions between her sister, Cecilia Tallis, and Robbie Turner.

The character of Briony is an intelligent, thirteen year old girl that is a writer. Already, one must conclude that Briony has an overactive imagination. But Briony’s imagination isn’t just set to pen and paper, she misunderstands many of the people around her and their actions. Briony uses her own logic not just in her head, but she takes it upon herself to interfere in things she is just too young to understand.

Robbie writes a note to Cecilia, which he asks Briony to deliver, specifically telling Briony not to read the note. Being a thirteen year old girl, of course Briony reads the note and finishing the note she comes to the conclusion that Robbie is a maniac. Several other events happen that further cause Briony to believe Robbie is most definitely a maniac. What really is a turning point in keeping Cecilia and Robbie apart happens at the hands of Briony. While outside at night Briony finds her cousin, Lola, being raped by someone. Lola knew who actually raped her, but Lola allowed Briony to accuse Robbie of raping her. By herself alone, although Lola didn’t help the situation either, she tore Cecilia and Robbie apart, although only physically because both were still in love with the other. Robbie was forced to enlist in the army and go to war, and Cecilia stayed in London where she worked as a nurse.

Over the years Briony sees just how wrong and childish her actions were, she tries her whole life to atone for what she had done. She writes Atonement so that she could let everyone know the truth of what happened that fateful summer day, although she took liberty with the ending. Briony admits to giving Robbie and Cecilia a happier ending in the book she wrote because she felt that it was the least she could do for her actions in the past. Robbie and Cecilia in her book end up together, while in real life Cecilia was killed while taking shelter during a bombing and Robbie died in World War II.

Newton’s First Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This law doesn’t just apply to science, but to life in general. Briony let her childish imagination take over and made rash decisions, causing the person that she was trying to protect, her sister Cecilia, harm. Simple cause and effect that is all literature really is.