On Chesil Beach

Push Me Pull You: Ideology vs. Individuality in McEwan’s On Chesil Beach

“And what stood in their way? Their personalities and pasts, their ignorance and fear, timidity, squeamishness, lack of entitlement or experience or easy manners, then the tail end of a religious prohibition, their Englishness and class, and history itself” (McEwan 119). Throughout the novel On Chesil Beach, author Ian McEwan builds an exploration that considers the role of identity, of social influence, and of ideology within the lives of two individuals. Through these two principle characters, McEwan reflects upon instances in which individuals are torn between personal desire and societal pressures. In facing these, each feels the influence of surrounding society as a universal or incontestable, natural law. Through their struggles, McEwan problematizes the role of regional hegemonies in colonizing individuals and examines the way in which ideology elevates the regional norms to universal morays and effectively eradicates free will.

Edward, McEwan’s principle male character, spends the majority of the novel considering how to escape the life of his “squalid family home” (45). At a crucial coming of age moment, Edward feels “his own being, the buried core of it he had never attended to before, come to a sudden, hard edged...

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