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Growth in Atonement

Author ZuoShanShan
Tutor LiuGuoZhi
School Hubei University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Ian McEwan Atonement Briony Bildungsroman
CLC I561.074
Type Master's thesis
Year 2012
Downloads 103
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Ian McEwan is one of Britain’s most distinguished and influential novelists. He has lived by his writing for nearly a quarter of a century. McEwan first came to public notice in1975, and then he was immediately regarded as an important and new voice among contemporary British writers. He has been nominated for the Man Booker Prize four times. And his novel Amsterdam finally won the Booker Prize in1998. Published in2001, McEwan’s masterpiece Atonement has received widespread praise and many awards including National Book Critics’ Circle Fiction Award in2003. It is widely recognized as the best of McEwan’s books and one of the most honored and successful books of recent years.Adolescents are often emerged as characters in McEwan’s works. What’s more, McEwan tends to attach great importance to adolescents’growth. In his ninth novel Atonement, McEwan tells a story about how a13-year-old girl gets matured through atonement. Since its publication, abundant criticism has appeared concerning the novel’s theme, plot, characters, and narrative techniques, etc. Up till now, however, no systematic investigation has been made into the protagonist Briony’s growing-up process in terms of bildungsroman theory. This thesis intends to interpret McEwan’s Atonement from the perspective of bildungsroman, which provides readers a new way to approach the novel and open up new possibilities.Growth into adulthood is an inevitable stage in one’s life. As a cultural phenomenon commonly existing in human life as well as the significant experience for an individual, growth has been an eternal theme in literature. Bildungsroman is a novel that has a theme of narrating the process of one’s growing-up; it tells the experiences of the characters; through the narrative about one or more characters’experiences of growth, it reflects the course of changing from naivety to maturity in mind and psychology of the characters. Bildungsroman is a specific type of literary genre, which first originated in Germany and later spreads into Europe, the US, or even the whole world. From then on, it has been widely accepted and well developed in the literary field all over the world. Generally speaking, this type of novel is educational, and may give one an uplifting power and stimulate one’s keen desire to be a good person.On the basis of research of McEwan and summaries of bildungsroman theory, this thesis attempts to apply bildungsroman theory to the study of McEwan’s novel Atonement and explore the growing process of the heroine Briony during her lifelong redemption.This thesis consists of five parts:Chapter one is the introduction part. It aims to offer an overall introduction about the author Ian McEwan and his works.Chapter Two presents the literature review which includes two parts-a brief account of Atonement with the novel’s main plot and the previous study on it. Many researchers have shown their interests and done a lot of studies on Ian McEwan’s works. However, compared with western critics, the research of McEwan has just started in China. We have only a few research papers about this writer and his books.Chapter Three provides strong theoretical support to the whole thesis. In this chapter there is a detailed introduction of the bildungsroman theory which is used in this thesis. It mainly traces back to the definitions and the origin of bildungsroman, and summarizes the common characteristics of this specific literary genre. Then it is concluded that the novel Atonement meets the requirements of bildungsroman in its major characteristics and can be regarded as a typical bildungsroman.Chapter Four, the body part of the thesis, is an analysis of the bildungsroman in Atonement. This chapter is concerning three main elements in bildungsroman theory in terms of the formulated plot pattern, initiation guides and initiation rituals to illustrate the protagonist’s growth. These concepts are essential and important in the interpretation of bildungsroman. The first part is the analysis of the formulated pattern of the traditional bildungsroman in Atonement. It studies the whole growing process of Briony, from innocence to escape from home, and after ordeals to maturity. The second part discusses the lack of initiation guides in Briony’s growing process. Living in such an indifferent environment, Briony longs for family connection and intimacy. Without any support and guidance from the family, Briony has to indulge into her own fantasy. The third part analyzes initiation rituals in Atonement. Briony’s growth is accompanied with her writings, which can be considered as rites of passage marking an entrance into a new process. Briony’s writings in different ages witness her changes in the inner world. Her latest novel Atonement symbolizes a real growth accomplished by her lifelong atonement.Chapter Five is the concluding part of the thesis. It points out that the theme of bildungsroman is made clear by Briony’s final maturity. Furthermore, a reading of bildungsroman theory in Atonement can be a help to a better understanding of the novel for future study.In light of bildungsroman theory, this thesis arrives at the conclusion that Briony’s experiences from an adolescent to an adult correspond with the general characteristics of bildungsroman. Although Briony can merely atone for her guilty conscience in her fictional world, she perfects her personality in the process of atoning through writing, and becomes more mature. Perhaps the process is challenging, and at times frustrating, but the effort is rewarded by enhanced understanding of the reader’s own views on some of the novel’s key concerns. This thesis is in the hope that it could by any chance render any help in the interpretation of Atonement and exhaust the rich and deep meanings of the novel.

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