Atonement – Vase Symbolism
In Atonement, instead of the familys stability being viewed as a rock like the ideal family, the vase in Atonement maintains peace but creates nothing but chaos and downfall when it is destroyed. When the vase, the familys heirloom, begins to fall apart, so does the family, until the pieces are so tiny that repair becomes clearly impossible. Throughout Ian McEwan’s Atonement, the vase symbolizes the destruction relationships and family bonds. The vase plays an important role in the Tallis’ family heritage. Mr. Tall’s, in fact has a deep emotional connection to it. The
Tallis vase was given to Uncle Clem Cack Tallis’ brother) while “he was on liaison duties in the French sector and initiated a last-minute evacuation of a small town west of Verdun before it was shelled” (McEwan 21). Uncle Clem was a war hero for risking his life for others, and received this vase as a sign a gratitude.
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This is why Jack Tallis “wanted the vase in use, in honor of his brother’s memory’ (McEwan 23). In Jacks eyes having wild flowers alive in the vase meant that there is still life associated with his deceased brother, which thoroughly kept him alive in his eyes.
Emily, Jacks ife however, does not particularly like the vase throughout the novel because it has Chinese fgures on it and “seemed fussy and oppressive” (McEwan 23), later tolerating it because she understands how important its meaning is honoring Clem’s legacy. In the beginning of the novel, the vase is in perfect condition and is beautiful as can be. It even had wild flowers on it. Many may believe these foreshadowed the chaos throughout the novel. The appearance of the vase is very royal looking and prestige and put together, similar to the Tallis family.
Just like the vase, on the outside, the Tallis’ seem collected and stable, but in reality they clearly have issues, symbolized by the wildflowers. The familys problems unfortunately go unrecognized until the chaos the night of the dinner. Ironically it is pointed out that Jack Tall’s, the father, is not home very often depicting the family clearly is not as close as they want people to believe. However, as Cecilia is arranging the flowers around in the vase; “she spent some minutes making adjustments in order to achieve a natural chaotic look” (McEwan 22).
Just like the vase, the family appears to be stable, but the ildflowers show that they really are not put together; they are attempting to hide their true nature. Cecilia is fixated on trying to make the wildflowers look perfect and symmetric, but they naturally grow in all different directions which is very symbolic in this case. Growing up in a garden atmosphere myself, one thing that my mother always told me was that sometimes wildflowers are actually a burden in gardens because “they grow everywhere and cause overcrowding. ” I felt this had quite a similarity to the Tallis family.
Now that the wildflowers are in the house, this was start of all of the craziness that occurs. However, the events that follow the scene at the fountain alter the atmosphere in the house and the relationships of Tallis family inside. The tension created between Cecilia and Robbie at the fountain leads to new understandings of what their relationship really is. Robbie has always been close to the family, but “he was putting distance between himself and the family’ (McEwan 27), which is quite evident even before the fountain incident.
However, what was not clear before comes to a realization when they partake in a slight argument over how to put water into the vase. It created tension between the two characters, causing the ase the shatter in two. To many, this may depict the beginning to an end for Robbie and Cecelia, “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). The two pieces that break off can possibly symbolize Cecilia and Robbie. It can represent the two in fact, breaking away from the family which happens as a result of Briony’s false accusations.
The family symbolizes the entire vase, and the two pieces depict Cecilia and Robbie astray from their relationships with the Tallis household. Thinking a little ore in depth about the incident, the fact that the pieces are triangular, could also depict the three main people involved: Robbie, Cecelia and Briony. The breaking of the vase is what starts up their minds and makes them come to understand that it is not Just awkward tension between them, but a sexual tension that they have not thought about until that event.
Cecilia was actually surprised and “put the fragments in the pocket of her skirt and took up the vase. Her movements were savage, and she would not meet his eye” (McEwan 29). She began contemplating her decisions, “IVe been seeing strangely, as if for the first time (McEwan 125). This can represent her unconscious feelings towards her lover Robbie. Robbie’s provocative letter to Cecilia on the other hand, opens her eyes and makes her realize the truth, being that she in fact has feelings for him.
She later attaches the pieces that broke off of the vase and “Judged the vase repaired” (McEwan 40), but the vase obviously still has cracks and is very fragile. When Briony witnessed the intimacy between Cecilia and Robbie in the library, she envisioned Robbie as a monster, clearly unsure of the situation. Also, Brionys claim of seeing Robbie raping Lola is another piece of the vase that will be orever shattered. Robbie and Cecelia both know he was falsely accused, which causes Cecilia to risk her relationship with Briony and her parents, standing up for the truth, and love in which she believes.
Briony feels guilty for the rest of her life and is determined to fix the past and make up for her mistake in her atonement. Many may believe that she is only a child when she witnesses the fountain scene, and Lola unfortunately being raped. In fact, the location of Lola’s rape is ironically in a garden surrounding the temple by the lake. Ironically the vase has “figures gathered formally in a garden… ith ornate plants and implausible birds” (McEwan 23). The picture on the vase goes hand in hand with the night of the rape. Everyone is dressed formally for dinner and Lola is raped in a garden.
Briony also hears a bird sound, which is made by Lola, which in this case symbolizes the birds on the vase. Clearly, the vase foreshadows the night of the rape which signifies its fragility and further destruction of the Tallis family. Briony is evidently a very imaginative and attention seeking girl, often exaggerating circumstances to make them more exciting and appealing not only to herself, but also others. The play she wrote clearly has to have all the attention on her, which also might be the reason probably the reason she reveals Robbie’s love letter to the police.
Instead of all the attention being on her it is on Lola and she wants it back, which I found quite amusing nonetheless. We later learn that Briony has a crush, or rather puppy love for this matter for Robbie, and was Jealous that he loves Cecilia instead of her eleven old self causing her to be angry and spiteful in this case. As a child Briony was also very naive which is also a part of her mistake, because she did not fully understand the situation. Five years ater atter Robbie’s imprisonment, Briony desperately wants ner guilt to go away and seeks atonement.
Studying nursing, it could also be that Briony thinks pursuing the same career as Cecilia, could bring them close again, unfortunately a hope that would never be fulfilled. Even though Cecilia and Robbie die before being with each other again, Briony feels that the only way to make everything right is to use her writing talents to write a novel telling the truth about that fateful night them the ending they deserve. A decision influenced by naivety, imagination, and Jealousy by a young girl, changes a couple’s lives forever.