Atonement Summary and Analysis of Part One: Chapter Six and Seven


Chapter 6 provides the reader with an intimate profile of Emily Tallis. We also learn a little more about Leon's life and character, for example that he has prospects to work with his father, but he passes on them to stay in the bank.

Emily considers the fat of her eldest daughter. She concludes that Cecilia’s three years at Girton (women’s college at Cambridge) has made her “an impossible prospect” as wife. Emily battles her migraine and plots on how to prepare for an appearance at dinner. “She would soothe the household, which seemed to her, from the sickly dimness of the bedroom, like a troubled and sparsely populated continent from whose forested vastness competing elements made claims and counterclaims upon her restless attention” (67).

Chapter 7 is also a short chapter that has Briony at the temple that rests on the island in the middle of the manmade lake of the Tallis property. While here, she daydreams herself to hurting/killing Lola. She also meditates that she is a fencing champion and has given up writing altogether.

It is revealed through Briony's first person narrative that Leon has only been gone three months (71). There is another reference made to the “come back” phrase that Cecilia used to say to Briony when she would wake from a bad dream (72). Briony snaps from her daydream and decides to stand on the bridge over the brook and not do anything until something happens to her.


In these two chapters we get a heavy dose of the social class/gender theme and Briony's relationship with water. Firstly, a biographical look into Emily Tallis's life demonstrates how much has changed in the role of women in society over the span of one generation. Emily was educated at home and feels a woman's role at the varsity to be "childish." At the same time, her challenge to "soothe the household" in the absence of her husband and despite a migraine illustrates the responsibilities she feels she has a female. She is also aware of the "terrible blow" the collapse of the play would be to Briony and wishes she could do more to comfort her. It is this loss of maternal power that will open the doors for Briony's crime.

On the top of page 64, the narrator describes how Briony "would have gone out with her mood, probably to be by water, by the pool, or the lake, or perhaps she had gone as far as the river." This relationship between Briony and water (and water in the book in general) is key to analyzing Briony's character. While water is meant to be her place of safety, solemnity, and refuge, it has deceived her once today already, and will again come nightfall. Just like Robbie Turner, the source of life and cleansing are misleading these two characters.

By Chapter seven we join Briony in her temperamental state at the temple. It is key here that Briony turns to a chapel that has "grown old before its time and let itself go." The personification of a temple that has "no one to care for it, no one to look up to," presents the idea that not only can religion and refuge avoid the tragedy that is about to spread across all of Europe.

Briony, in her anger, slashes away at "nettles" but soon gets bored of this play "without a story imposing itself." She daydreams she is a fencing champion of the world and even goes far enough to behead her older cousin. Later on in the novel, it is Robbie Turner's sidekick during his Odyssey back to Dunkirk--"Nettles"--who provides the older version of Briony with the necessary information to write her atonement. The imposition of the necessity for story from the nettles adds further complication to Briony's statement about writer as God, with complete autonomy over the story to kill and save who she sees fit.

Furthermore, this time it is Briony being spied upon, by Lola, who can see her near the temple from the same second story window that gives birth to Briony's imagination about Robbie and Cecilia.

Once again, Briony is unable to separate myth from reality. Briony is caught in a moment of "oblivious daydreaming" that leads to a "coming back" to reality. It is during the transient moment between the daydreaming and the coming back where Briony loses her "godly power of creation." The narrator flat out tells the reader that "part of the daydreaming enticement is the illusion that she was helpless before its logic." Unable to differentiate between the two realms will cause Briony to confuse what she "sees" and what she "believes" when convicting Robbie Turner of rape.