Symbols and Motifs in Atonement by Ian McEwan

  • Category: Books, Literature,
  • Words: 429 Pages: 2
  • Published: 09 May 2021
  • Copied: 199

Ian McEwan uses symbols and motifs throughout his novel, Atonement, in order to convey important messages and ideas. These messages and ideas are important as they are presented in a way that doesn’t disrupt the flow of the story.  They instead go along with the flow.

One example of this is Uncle Clem’s vase. In particular, the breaking of the vase as it is a key symbol relating to Cecilia and Robbie. The incident is described in the text, “A section of the lip of the vase came away in his hand, and split into two triangular pieces which dropped in the water...”(McEwan 28).  This vase relates to Cecilia and Robbie as it represents their relationship. McEwan wants to emphasize how fragile and precious their relationship is. It is broken by forces outside of their control, it’s mended together, and it is broken again. McEwan wanted to show how there is no such thing as a perfect relationship and that there is usually never a fairytale ending when it comes to love. 

One motif that McEwan uses throughout the novel is heat. To quote Leon Tallis, “’I love England in a heat wave,’” (McEwan). Heat is an important motif in the novel as part of the story takes place in the summer during the heat wave. It is constantly used by characters to justify their actions. They either try to blame things on the heat or try to avoid it. But why is this important. Well, McEwan wanted to shine a light on how humans like to project their problems on other things instead of focusing on the actual cause of the problem. This idea helps contribute to the main ideas of the story. It is a brick in a building. A small part that helps build up to the bigger picture.

One last example of a symbol McEwan uses is the Amo Bars-the product of Paul Marshall’s candy company. During the war, Robbie sees them everywhere as they are a part of the rations provided to the soldiers. To Robbie, the bars symbolize the evil of Paul Marshall. They are a constant reminder to Robbie of how Marshall ruined his life. They show that not even war can stop the constant reminder of his misfortune. They show Marshall’s power and influence and how class protects the rich from punishment for crimes. McEwan used this symbol to emphasize the idea of class and its influence on society. The Amo Bars contribute to the idea of class being a problem for society.

McEwan used symbols and motifs to convey his ideas and messages he wanted to share with the reader. These devices allow him to do so as they help to build upon his ideas without disrupting the pacing of the overall storyline.


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