Narrative Ethics: Imagination and Empathy in Ian McEwan’s Atonement

Narrative Ethics: Imagination and Empathy in Ian McEwan’s Atonement | Monica COJOCARU

Abstract: My paper starts from the assumption that empathy and imagination are closely connected, and that this connection offers rich ground for the exploration of moral values. However, as I aim at demonstrating, neither empathy nor imagination are presented as givens, but rather as means for rendering the infinite ethical complexity, guilt, ambiguity, contingency, and moral dilemmas faced by the characters’ of Ian McEwan’s 2001 masterpiece, Atonement. The paper calls attention to the novel’s concern with the risks posed by inhabiting a fictional universe, with the amendments that universe grants to both readers and writers, and with the limitations it imposes on them. The novel’s writer-protagonist possesses the power of inflicting trauma upon herself and other people as well as that of creating unity out of a chaotic and potentially destructive world through moral empathy and responsibility. My paper considers the novel’s exploration of dramatic events that distort and reshape the characters’ existence as a result of misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and misreading, with a view to highlighting the moral implications of telling stories and the power that a writer has to bend history to her own will.

Keywords: Ian McEwan; Atonement; empathy; narrative ethics; storytelling.




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