All Her Work

Throughout the novel, McEwan uses __ to portray character Briony Tallis as power hungry. Briony is portrayed as longing for different kinds of power including the power that comes from being recognized as a good artist, the power of having control over characters in a story, the power of acquiring people’s secrets and the power that comes from being acknowledged by adults and family.

From the very beginning of the novel McEwan makes it clear that Briony Tallis’s obsession with becoming a writer is dangerous given her drive to exercise control over her surroundings. For example, Briony’s manipulative and controlling efforts to prepare the household for her play The Trials of Arabella, in which she was the director and star. McEwan consistently presents Briony as “one of those children possessed by a desire to have the world just so” (pg. 4). It is revealed that Briony’s passion for writing originates from the ability it gives her to exercise her desire for control by fabricating a whole new world in which she is God, having complete power over the fate of the characters in her stories.

Upon observing the scene by the fountain, Briony attempts to interpret it. However, is perplexed when the order of events doesn’t correspond with the fictional plots she is accustomed to. “The sequence was illogical – the drowning scene, followed by a rescue, should have preceded the marriage proposal” (39). Infuriated by her inability to interpret what she witnessed “Voices and images were ranged around her bedside, agitated, nagging presences, jostling and merging, resisting her attempts to set them in order” (183). Briony is overwhelmed by the complexity of life and human experience coming to the conclusion that adult life is immeasurably complicated, that ‘clearly, these were the kinds of things that happened” (39–40) and it would be easy for someone in her position to “get everything wrong, completely wrong” (39).

After reading Robbie’s crude letter to Cecelia, Briony casts Robbie as a violent sex maniac and is infuriated when he turns up with the missing twins, sabotaging the plot Briony created in her mind, which involved the defeat of a villain (Robbie) by a young heroine (Briony), resulting in the praise of the heroine by her family as their protector. “it was wrong of him to turn up with the twins like that, and she felt cheated …All her work, all her courage and clear-headedness, all she had done to bring Lola home – for nothing” (183–184).

Briony is thrilled by “a sense of her own power” (118) at the importance of her role as the primary witness to Lola’s rape and enjoys the attention and acknowledgement she receives from adults and family as “their only source’. This is evident after Briony turns in Robbie’s letter to Cecelia, in which Briony felt “vindicated by the reaction of the adults, and was experiencing the onset of a sweet and upward rapture” (173). The way she “was listened to, deferred to and gently prompted seemed at one with her new maturity” (173).