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Atonement: Philosophical Interpretation Essay


Atonement is to compensate, amend or satisfy a wrong. Briony is the one responsible for the wrong act that needs atoning. A lot was running through this thirteen year old mind before setting out with this act. Firstly, she witnessed what seemed to her as sexual apprehension between her sister, Cecilia, and Robbie at a water fountain outside her window. After seeing her sister stripped down to her underwear, she misunderstood this as aggression on Robbies part. As a natural human being, one feels somewhat duty-bound to try and look out and protect for her family, especially sisters. After this had her thinking about what was happening and how to reason it. The letter that she read from Robbie using a sex-crazed, demeaning language for her sister proved that she was right and Robbie was a sex maniac. Growing up like Briony around close family all her life makes it impossible to let these events slide and have no consideration for her sister. The next incident that motivated her into this unjust act is stumbling upon a guy in a tuxedo raping her close cousin, Lola. Briony started to feel close to Lola, they both had a close moment together before this happened; caring for Lolas safety and protection was also a big part of her motivation of the act. Briony experienced her first crush on Robbie; this can draw out severe jealousy upon her sister after witnessing their meetings together. Being jealous, pushed her motives even more to send him over to the cops and jail. Robbie was her first crush and she had not experienced any of these thoughts with another man before. Briony had no experience, which can also be said differently, she was too young to know how to deal with her emotions and rejection. She was rejected by him when she expressed her love for him driving her to be further motivated towards sending him off away. Her motivation towards sending him to jail seemed the obvious thing to do but it was based upon her wrong instincts and judgments.

The act of sending him to jail can definitely be characterized to being morally wrong. The punishment of raping a girl is jail, and, she did not see for sure that it was him doing this immoral act. She did think of the consequence of her act because she wanted him away from herself and her family. Another consequence was giving Robbie a life in jail and no association with the outside world; by doing this he would not be able to fulfill his goal of becoming a doctor. The main consequence of her act thought is the guilt associated with the accusation being false. Briony did not take into consideration anything of that sort while performing the accusation. She had not witnessed with her eyes seeing Robbie raping Lola but was determined to send him to jail from her past misjudgments. Briony being able to make such a decision to affect someone elses life so drastically upon a notion and no concrete evidence is morally wrong. He was apprehended because the police took into consideration the thirteen year-old verdict without a doubt; she was apparently old enough to be able to make such an accusation. Clearly she was not mature enough to send him to jail because she was asked if she saw his face, and Briony lied. She wanted herself to be self satisfied and tried to get him into a place far away from her and her family, that being jail. The act was clearly immoral because it was motivated upon false judgments and the consequences were not thought about unquestionably.

Under the theory of moral relativism, the main understanding is that each person has the right to decide what is right or wrong. This says that Briony has the right to accuse Robbie of raping Lola and still decide it was the right thing to do. Under moral relativism, she is morally right but an exception has to be made on this theory. Briony, however, is not old enough though to be making such decisions to affect anothers life so drastically and wrong.

Just because she had the ability to send him to jail because she was there does not make it right. The ability for any human being to be able to make an action like this and decide its right is a big flaw in moral relativism. This approach shows that lying is not termed as a moral absolute and it disregards the consequences of the action.

Under the theory of utilitarianism, it looks at the consequences over and above the act. Analyzing the consequences single-handedly of this situation, whatever everyone except Cecilia and Robbie wanted, who was the minority, was sacrificed for everyone elses happiness. Thus, the moral worth under utilitarianism is determined by its overall utility, making it morally right since the overall happiness of the majority outweighed the minority. The outcome was Robbie being in prison which meant that most will be happy with this situation; it makes everyone except Cecilia feel happy and at ease. Utilitarianism is therefore another theory of ethics that permits lying which is an immoral act. This is a very exclusionary and discriminatory approach to this situation that promotes no moral consequences of this act.

Under the theory of psychological egoism, it is viewed that every action is motivated by self interest. This says that Briony accusing Robbie was motivated for her own selfish reasons. It can be viewed in this way saying that she is motivated by her jealousy over her sister; if she cant be able to have him as her special someone, she doesnt want anyone have him instead. Since Robbie did not acknowledge or love her the way she loved him, she could act in her own self interest and retaliated to send him away from her sister. It can also be looked at as she feeling good to help put the man who raped her cousin and had sexual tensions with her sister in jail. This theory does not resolve the act to be morally right nor wrong.

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