Atonement Summary and Analysis of Part One: Chapter Twelve


This chapter is seen through the eyes of Emily Tallis as she returns to the study and debates calling the police. Alas, she decides against it. While alone in the house, Emily contemplates her sister, Hermione, and all of her selfish, attention-seeking needs. She recognizes this in Lola, as she attempts to console her while her twin brothers are sought. At one point noting the scratch on her face and bruises on her arms being “rather shocking” (137).

Eventually, Lola leaves the house as well to look for her brothers and Emily ponders her husband Jack and we learn a little more about his business with the ministry. In a memory episode, Emily once peaked through some of Jack’s files while he was asleep in the den. The file had indications that Jack was part of a board that was preparing for war.

Jack calls the house and they chat briefly. Emily tells Jack about the twins missing which he off puts as simple boy mischievousness and deviance. While on the phone with Jack, the troupe returns without the twins. They all stand shocked and Leon takes the phone from his mother, imploring his father to come home immediately. At one point Leon whispers into the receiver beneath a cupped hand and Emily does not know what he is saying, but the message is clearly understood. The news of the twins is not good.

After Leon hangs up the phone, he suggests they all move to the drawing room where they can be seated before any news was broken to Emily or Lola.


The entire novel is about Briony coming to terms with a crime. However, it was not only she who committed a crime. Emily Tallis notes being aware of Lola's bruises, the scratch on Paul Marshall's face and that they were "rather shocking, given that it was inflicted by little boys," but still does nothing. This could be a metaphor for Britain's political stance on Germany's sweep through Europe in the late 1930s, standing by and doing nothing before it was too late.

Emily's pondering of her younger sister's situation to abandon her children, disrespect the institution of marriage, and run off to Europe with a lover is also a comment on the changing traditions of feminism and women's rights to pursue their own lives that was about to hit the Western world.

Briony, as narrator, appears to finally recognize her mother's lack of involvement besides the trauma of the evening: "How like her, to sit in a room like this, not 'joining in.'" Briony seems to become aware of her mother's failure as protector during this fragile time of lost innocence. Even when Jack telephones the home to apologize for missing dinner, Emily refuses to acknowledge the situation Europe is in just like she refuses to take part in the family affairs that are happening all around her.