McEwans main character in Atonement, Briony Tallis, was only 13 when she sent an innocent man to jail. Robbie Turner was convicted of raping 15 year old Lola Quincy. He was sentenced on Brionys accusations alone; there was no proof. McEwan wrote Briony as a character with annoying personality traits, to show she was the bad guy in the story. Briony aspired to be a writer, but later gave this up to follow in her sisters footsteps and become a nurse. Briony did this to escape her family and spend her time helping the sick and injured. Though she technically escaped her past and moved away, she never forgot what she did, or forgave herself. The fact that Briony still feels guilty is evident in the book she begins to write; Two figures by a fountain. The book shows Robbie and her sister Cecilia in a good light; it shows them as wonderful people. Briony has done this in an attempt to tell the truth. Another way Briony tries to escape her past, but fails, is in the final pages of the book. Briony is a dying old lady who is taken back to her childhood house to watch a play she wrote back the day before she accused Robbie. By doing this McEwan has shown it is possible to hide the past; however it is not possible to escape it as Briony returns to the scene of the crime.
Like Briony, McEwan has made it impossible for Robbie Turner to escape his past. Robbie hated life in jail. He longed to be free with the girl he loves, Cecilia and because of this Robbie took up an offer to go to Dunkirk during the war which evidently killed him. If in the past Robbie hadnt gone to jail, he wouldnt have died of septicaemia, and would possible still be alive. He also would have had the chance to become an officer, which may not have put him in the front line during the war and possibly decreased his chance of getting shot, therefore for Robbie it was impossible to escape his past as his past evidently killed him. McEwan used foreshadowing to give the reader an idea that Robbie was going to die. When Robbie says you wont hear another word from me, he dies. The story goes on making the reader think he has not died. The foreshadowing is hard to understand due to the fact there is a third person narrating the story. When Robbie states everyone was guilty, and no one was, he is referring to the fact that though he has not killed anyone, he has left people to die. So though he is not immediately responsible to the death of people, he didnt help them, he just kept on walking as his own safety came first. This quote could have an underlying meaning referencing back to his innocence in Lolas rape. McEwan has effectively shown through foreshadowing in his novel Atonement, that it is impossible, to a large extent to escape the past.