Atonement Summary and Analysis of Part One: Chapter Five


Briony has completely given up on her play and abandons rehearsal with no real explanation, just that she is frustrated that her visions can’t be met. Lola watches out the window as Briony goes to the edge of the lake to sulk.

Lola goes into Auntie Venus’s room and sees Paul’s luggage. It reminds her of her dad. She then returns to the playing room where the twins express missing home and their parents and not liking the Tallis residence one bit. They cry and Lola attempts to console them, suggesting “it will be all right.” Jackson responds that it will not, because it’s a divorce, even though none of them know what that really means, rather just repeating an adult word they have heard tossed about when discussing their mother and father.

Paul Marshall is discovered listening at the door (not concealingly) and enters to introduce himself. He mentions he has read about the Quincey’s in the papers, but ensures the children they are loved and their folks are good people. He then notices Lola to be a pubescent, developing young woman and flirts with her. Paul tells them of his chocolate factory and ensures the children that there “will be a war.”


The main analysis to be taken away from this chapter is how much Lola yearns for male presence in the absence of her father, and Paul Marshall's underlying motives in taking an interest in the Quincey children predicament.

Once again, we have a scene witnessed through a window. This time it is Lola who watches Briony head down to the water, unaware of a hatred so deep that Briony will soon daydream about beheading her older cousin.

The discovery of Paul Marshall's luggage in Auntie Venus's room reminds Lola of her father. Shortly thereafter, she turns to the nursery to pretty her hair and make-up. Location (nursery) and motivation (oedipal desires) are both hinted at in this scene. When her brother's return to the nursery and argue about the divorce of their parents, it is Lola's opportunity to exercise some of her new maternal jurisdiction over the two boys, telling them they shall "never ever use that word again."

Paul Marshall is discovered voyeuristically spying on Lola in her role of pseudo-mother. The fact that the two meet in a nursery when Lola is attempting to demonstrate a maturity and personality she has not yet reached emphasizes the book's theme of loss innocence. Marshall sees the young girl as a Pre-Raphaellite princess, and she attempts to talk to him of high-society topics--fashion and the theater.

It is Paul who informs of the inevitable war and his intentions to get rich off it. Jackson and Pierrot act as a metaphor for the innocent English mind at the time. In 1935, some wished to believe war could be avoided. Marshall, with his certainty that their father is wrong, is the grim voice of truth. All is about to fall apart for the Quincey's and for England. The fact that chocolate (a child's treat) is going to be used in war (adult horror) adds further to McEwan's metaphor.