Volume 71, Issue 1, Winter 2019
Ian McEwan’s Atonement as a Postmodernist Quest for Meaning
A complex and controversial novel, Atonement is at the core of a lively critical debate, opposing those who focus on the impossibility of Briony’s atonement – also in relation to the author’s atheist views – to those who conversely explore the redemptive quality of her “postlapsarian” painful self-fashioning. Far from concerning simply the destiny of a literary character, this debate has to do with the impact Postmodernist relativism has on both the conception of the human subject and the discourses of the past, from memory to history and fiction. Discarding any potentially nihilistic interpretations of Atonement as disempowering, this article delves into Ian McEwan’s multi-layered text in order to comprehend its ambivalences, its subtle investigation of the human condition, and its status as a postmemory novel reconnecting us to the events of World War Two.