Child as a Site of Adult Desire: “Atonement” by Ian McEwan

Atonement is a British story about a girl named Briony, age 13, who is the youngest of three children.  On the brink of adolescence,  she grows to become fond of a young man (the son of her family’s help) , Robbie, who has fallen in love with her older sister, Cecilia, age 22.  During one summer, Briony witnesses the organic sexual tension between Cecilia and Robbie on several occasions.  This of course fuels her jealousy and causes her to behave with adult like spitefulness and even revenge as she sees things that she does not understand but think she does.  At the core of this drama is one false accusation that Briony knowingly makes that causes all three of their lives to become severely damaged to the point where at the story’s end (when everyone grows older), Briony, now an adult, spends her whole life seeking “atonement” to set her childish wrong right.

This story was adapted to a film that was Oscar-nominated.  The film was rated R for disturbing war images, language and sexuality, which shows that this story was intended for the entertainment of adult desire though its main character is a 13-year-old child.  The process of atonement reaches beyond the scope of a child.  The writer, Ian McEwan has used the innocent perception of a child misunderstood to show adult readers that it can take an entire life span to repent and receive forgiveness for our wrongs. Elements of war and social class also have affects to the story-line that also are beyond comprehensions of a child so that when reading this story, once again we see an example of the adult projection of desire was used as an interpreter of this story.



“Atonement Themes.” Atonement Themes. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

2 thoughts on “Child as a Site of Adult Desire: “Atonement” by Ian McEwan

  1. I’m not sure I understand what you are identifying as the desire/fantasy that adults are using the child or the child’s story to tell here.

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