Atonement

Summary and Analysis of Part One: Chapter Nine

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Summary:

Cecilia is getting ready for the dinner, and she is struggling trying to find something to wear. After she finally decides on her favorite dress, she exits her room and discovers Jackson and Pierrot fighting in the hallway over a pair of socks, the only pair between them. Cecilia goes into the Quincey room and cleans it for the boys, solving their problem by borrowing a pair of socks from Briony’s room. While there, she maternally soothes the twins as they sadly express their desire to go home.

Eventually, Cecilia makes it to the kitchen where the preparation for Leon’s requested roast has all the hands on deck and the tensions high. She soon abandons the housing staff, taking her mother with her, and joins her brother for a drink and walk in the garden as they catch up on each other’s lives over the last three months. It is during this chat that Cecilia realizes she is seeking an “adventure” and “excitement” (97) of her own.

After their walk, Leon and Cecilia return to the home where Briony is impatiently waiting for them. When Briony sees her brother, she shrieks, and runs into his arms in elation. She then passes Cecilia the folded note, which is read by Cecilia as Briony continues to swoon in her big brother’s arms.

Cecilia reads the note (but we, as readers, are kept unaware of its contents) and is enlightened of her oppressed love for Robbie Turner: “Of course, of course. How had she not seen it? Everything was explained. The whole day, the weeks before, her childhood. A lifetime. It was clear to her now. Why else take so long to choose a dress, or fight over a vase, or find everything so different, or be unable to leave? What had made her so blind, so obtuse?” (105).

It then dawns on her that the note was passed without an envelope, which seems odd. She attempts to ask Briony if it was given to her sealed. She repeats her inquiry a second time and Briony ignores her both times.

Analysis:

Cecilia's attempt, and success, to calm the twins after their fight over the socks represents her loss as a woman in this world. Educated and desiring "excitement and adventure," she is unable to quell her primitive instincts as female.

The twins are interchangeable, just like Mace and Nettles from Part Two. These young boys foreshadow the young soldiers who will be stuck in a world over which they have no control; victims of a social predicament they cannot escape. The twins can't get on with their socks, Mace and Nettles gripe about their boots. All four males desire nothing more than to "go home," but they can't and this has them lost.

At the centre of the chapter, we get a deeper look into the character of Leon Tallis. Described as viewing "no one as mean-spirited, no one schemed or lied or betrayed," is representative of Britain's handling of Hitler and the Germans preceding the war. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was often accused of being too soft and appeasing to many of Germany's requests and attacks before the war spread continent-wide. Leon's refusal to see the indecency and tyranny in mankind reflects Chamberlain's pacifying political strategy.

The theme of identity in the novel is briefly touched upon in this chapter as well, when the reader learns that the Tallis grandfather was born under a different name, Cartwright, and no one knows when and why it was changed. This limits the roots of the Tallis home further complicating Briony's own struggle with who she is--fictional writer or true historian.