Self-forgiveness and the moral perspective of humility: Ian McEwan's Atonement

John Lippitt

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Reflection on Briony Tallis in Ian McEwan’s Atonement can help us understand two key aspects of self-forgiveness. First, she illustrates an unorthodox conception of humility that aids the process of responsible self-forgiveness. Second, she fleshes out a self-forgiveness that includes continued self-reproach. While Briony illustrates elements of the self-absorption about which critics of continued self-reproach (such as Margaret Holmgren) are rightly concerned, she also shows a way of getting beyond this, such that the delicate balance between self-forgiveness and self-condemnation is upheld. Atonement also shows the significance for the task of self-forgiveness of a particular kind of narrative continuity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-138
Number of pages18
JournalPhilosophy and Literature
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • Self-forgiveness
  • Ian McEwan
  • Atonement
  • Margaret Holmgren
  • Robin S. Dillon
  • Humility


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