Clarissa, which is alluded to by ‘Briony’ in the opening pages of Atonement, helps to build the characters of Briony and Cecilia and their relationship, and foreshadowing of the destruction of this through Briony’s imaginative tendencies. The synecdoche of “the play” Briony is scribing- “The Trials of Arabella” not only establishes her as ‘a writer’ but also deeply characterizes her. Arabella (Clarissa’s sister) is overshadowed by her sister in looks, knowledge and talent, which makes her feel highly jealous of her sister, as well as under appreciated by those around her. It is apparent to Briony that she should play the role of Arabella, not only in her play, but in her life: “she was not playing Arabella because she wrote the play … she was taking the part because no other possibility had crossed her mind… because she was Arabella”. This characterises Briony’s need to be the centre of attention, as well as her narcissistic nature. The character of Arabella in Briony’s play also suffers through many “trials”- Briony’s melodramatic way of suggesting that her life is a ‘trial’ in which she has gone through much “suffering” in her appeals to stand out from her other siblings. The use of this play also shows how boring Briony finds the real world compared to the constructed and imaginative universe she can create when writing: in which “a world could be made in five pages”
Briony’s older sister, Cecilia, is “[ making] her way through Richardson’s Clarissa”, which she remarks to Robbie is “boring”. This notion of being feeling bored and tired of being trapped at home is indicated with McEwan’s use of long sentence structure and continual comma use to represent a her
‘sighs’ of boredom-“she had made a half hearted start on a family tree, but on the paternal side, at least until her great grandfather opened his humble hardware shop,” Another use of this technique to indicate Cecilia’s need to move onto something new is: “Cecilia knew she could not go on wasting her days in the stews of her untidied bedroom” A further indication of the lack of direction Cecilia has in her life is shown in description of Clarissa to Robbie, in which Cecilia exclaims “I wish she would just get on with on it”. Whilst Briony may feel overshadowed by Cecilia, Cecilia feels a desire to be needed by someone: “she persuaded herself she remained for Briony’s sake” which allows them to have a strong relationship. The colloquial language used in conversation between them: “Darling, what’s up” further indicates this closeness. The end of use of these structural techniques indicates the permanent destruction of this relationship when Briony commits her “crime”. It is only through the inclusion of these structural elements of sentence structure, synecdoche and intertextual reference, that we are able to examine both characters desires and facets of their personalities.
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