Compare how Atonement and Spies explore the journey from innocence to experience. Both Atonement and Spies are bildungsroman where the protagonists are reminiscing about events in their childhoods which impose on them in their adult lives. In Atonement, Briony is narrating throughout the text; however the reader only finds this out at the end and in Spies Stephen is narrating with his older and younger self through duel narration with slippage between the two. Both text were published within a year of each other, Atonement in 2001 and Spies in 2002; however they both focus on the same time in history, during (and after) the Second World War. Spies focuses on one point in time around 1940; whereas Atonement ranges before, throughout and after the war with the view points from different characters throughout unlike Spies where the reader sees only from young or old Stephen. Both protagonists are naïve and easily influenced in the beginning of the novels and their misinterpretations draw the narrative to a conclusive disaster. In Spies, Stephen misinterprets the Mrs Hayward’s diary’s x’s and exclamation marks for some form of German “code” and believes that she is a spy- “she actually is a German spy”- Similarly in Atonement, where Briony misinterprets what she witnessed in the library which leads her to the conclusion that Robbie raped Lola, which she sticks to with conviction “it was Robbie”. The misinterpretations made by the protagonists reflect the lack of knowledge about the adult world and emphasise their innocence in the beginning of the novels. In Atonement the peak of Briony’s innocence is at the beginning with the “Trials of Arabella” and sulking when she gives up the main part of “Arabella” by killing nettles which foreshadows the impending doom of her actions. I believe at this point Briony triggers a transition to adult knowledge with the letter and therefor conclusively decides the narrative with her intrusion of Robbie and Cecilia’s privacy; however in the film adaptation others have interpreted this differently. Peter Bradshaw believes that it is the
“mysterious scene by the fountain that is to trigger Briony’s terrible misguided sense that she has a personal insight and a grievance; it appears to give her an access point into shocking adult phenomena”. However key the scene is in the narrative as a whole, I do not believe it to be a pivotal role in Briony’s contribution to the downfall that is witnessed later in the novel due to the confusion she feels when confronted with the situation. In Spies Stephen and Keith play childish games such as “monkey hunting”; however this is contradicted increasingly throughout the novel with the seriousness of their accusations made in regards to Keith’s mother. John Mullan believes that the “The boys show ominous signs of adulthood behaviour when supposedly children: the boys never seem to call each other by their first names except when taking some horrendous sounding oaths”. The protagonists both believe a fictitious story conjured from their own imaginations and thus relieves them of their innocence leaving them open to the repercussions of their actions. Briony convinces herself that she saw Robbie and swears that she did whilst we find out later in the novel that she was unsure. In the first interview with the police she states “I know it was him”, not clarifying that she “saw”, him leading the reader to believe that she does so because of her misunderstandings over the fountain and letter earlier in the novel. In spies Stephen and Keith are certain that Mrs Hayward is a spy after they witness her first “disappearance” which they both rationalise after they have seen it. This act of misunderstanding is less harmful than that of Briony’s action however; they are invading the privacy of someone else which does add to the compromising of their innocence. Both stories conjured by the protagonists are not clarified throughout the narrative; the author leaves hints for...
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