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A Parallel View on How Characters in Hamlet and Atonement Position on Their Own Guilt

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‘In crime writing there are always victims’

Explore the significance of the ways that victims are presented in two crime texts you have studied.

In both Atonement and Hamlet, the biggest victim is also the perpetrator of a crime as well as being the central protagonist. Through this both authors are able to explore the guilt and contemplation of their characters. In Atonement the crime occurs at the start of the novel allowing for Brionys status as a victim to be developed from her guilt following her false accusation of Robbie, in Hamlet on the other hand Hamlets crime of killing Claudius takes place at the end of the play so Hamlets inner torment about committing the crime is able to be explored. Both victims, Briony and Hamlet, express their victimisation through forms of narrative, Briony through her narration of the novel and Hamlets via his siliques.

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The characters in Atonement (Robbie, Cecilia and Lola) endure more obvious suffering and they do so because of someone other than themselves such as Briony and Paul Marshal rather being an self-inflicted as the majority of Brionys suffering is, although some is because of her mother’s lack of attention, making Briony a victim of neglect. It is McEwan’s decision to place the crime committed so early in the novel, a crime committed by her rather than upon her separating her from the other characters, to mirror how young Briony was when she committed her crime and the focus of the novel on how its haunted her since, heightening her victim status above the others and arousing more sympathy as she was just a child at the time and therefore unaware of the full effect of her words. McEwan’s presentation of Briony as a victim is clear, Briony at the hands of her parents has suffered lack of parenting. This may also be due to her class as her mother would have paid little attention to her and Briony would have been predominantly raised by a nanny leaving Briony desperate for attention which she can only receive through her imagination which she turns into reality as she accuses Robbie of rape. Through this action she gains the attention and drama she’s feels deprived off. It is this one action that haunts her for the rest of her life. Briony is punishing herself for her actions whilst possibly being her harshest critic, but this can never clear her conscience of the guilt as her actions are never properly condemned by her family or the authority’s. She is victimised by being distanced from her family they can never understand her ‘secret torment’. She is victimise by her accusation of Robbie as she feels guilty for Lola, now married to her attacker, Briony couldn’t reveal the truth even if she wanted as it would only further destroy Lola’s life and she knows no one would believe her as Paul Marshal is a respected upper class man, exactly why he was able to get away with his crime. This lack of ability to get justice makes Briony a victim of the legal system. Brionys feelings of guilt are clear as she is revealed to be the author of the novel meaning she wrote Robbie perspective in France, she was imagining all the horrors he had faced because of her.

Hamlet is the most obvious victim in Hamlet as his father is murdered, his mother and her ‘incestuous marriage’ and the restoration of justice placed on solely his shoulders. Trapped by his own conscience of whether he can live with the knowledge or condemn himself to hell. Hamlets philosophical views towards the world only further confuse him, what is after death?, is it right to kill a murderer?, is it right to let one live? These questions, explored via his siliques, show his internal confusion which prevent him from seeing that he is too becoming a criminal. It is Hamlets inability to see this that victimises him. Hamlet is placed in this conundrum by his dead father’s ghost, someone whose request he can’t deny even if he fears it may be the devil, making him a victim of his father’s desire for revenge. Hamlet himself was drawn to end his own life, during his ‘too be or not too be’ silique we see him contemplate what was considered a crime during the Elizabethan period. Hamlet was considering committing what was to him a moral crime, due to his philosophical views on life and religion shown in this silique, in order to escape committing a legal crime, unable to bare the torment of fulfilling the ghost request creating pity for Hamlet as a victim of his own despair. Hamlet is further victimised as he make decisions that he is judge for when his mind is clouded by grief from his father’s death and his anger at his mother’s lack thereof because of this he condemns Claudius to purgatory, plotting to kill him ‘drunk or in his incestuous bed’ an act that makes Hamlet as evil as Claudius himself and makes hamlet the villain in the eyes of the audience. In pursuit of this revenge he commits sin after sin and ultimately sacrifices his own life. Due to these sins Hamlet would have gone to hell and suffer eternal torment but this also meant Hamlet experienced his worse fear, the uncertainty of after death, so Hamlet would have died terrified of the unknowingness of death. Luckily for Hamlet he is remember after his death by Horatio as a hero, Hamlet won’t be remembered for his sin unlike Briony who has to live knowing both Cecilia and Robbie died her for their suffering.


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