Trial Scenes and the Concept of Justice in Ian McEwan's Atonement


  • Eleonora Cecchin



This paper aims at analysing McEwan’s novel Atonement from the point of view of the legal issues embedded in the novel. It will focus in particular on an issue which at a first reading appears as a side-element in the text and remains on the background, but which nonetheless, constitutes a main element of the plot, and the one upon which the whole question of atonement actually relies: the trials, real ones and symbolic ones.


Albers, Stephanie, and Torsten Caeners. “The Poetics and Aesthetics of Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement.’” English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature 90.6 (2009): 707-20.

Antor, Heinz. “The Ethics of Story-Telling and of Reading: Literature, the Law, and the Principle of Equity.” The Concept of Equity: An Interdisciplinary Assessment. Ed. Daniela Carpi. Heilderberg: Universitätsverlag, Winter 2007. 151-167.

Archer, Dawn. “‘Can Innocent People Be Guilty?’ A Sociopragmatic Analysis of Examination Transcripts from the Salem Witchcraft Trials.” Journal of Historical Pragmatics 3.1 (2002): 1-30.

Bibas, Stephanos, and Richard Bierschbach. “Integrating Remorse and Apology into Criminal Procedure.” The Yale Law Journal 114.1 (2004): 85-148.

Brooks, Peter, and Gewirtz, Paul, eds. Law’s Stories: Narrative and Rhetoric in the Law. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Carpi, Daniela, ed. Practising Equity, Addressing Law: Equity in Law and Literature. Heilderberg: Universitätsverlag, Winter 2007.

Cowan, Geoffrey. “The Legal and Ethical Limitations of Factual Misrepresentation.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 560 (1998): 155-164.

Douzinas, Costas. “Sublime Law: On Legal and Aesthetic Judgements.” Parallax 14.4 (2008): 18-29.

D’hoker, Elke. “Confession and Atonement in Contemporary Fiction: J.M. Coetzee, John Banville and Ian McEwan.” Critique 48.1 (2006): 31-43.

Finney, Brian. “Briony’s Stand against Oblivion: The Making of Fiction in Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement.’” Journal of Modern Literature 27.3 (2004): 68-82.

Garapon, Antoine. Bien Juger: Essai sur le Rituel Judiciaire. Paris: Odile Jacob, 2001.

Gunn, Giles B. “Literature and Its Relation to Religion.” The Journal of Religion 50.3 (1970): 268-91.

Hall, Jerome. “Biblical Atonement and Modern Criminal Law.” Journal of Law and Religion 1.2 (1983): 279- 295.

Lejeune, Philippe. Le pacte autobiographique. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1975.

McEwan, Ian. Atonement. London: Vintage, 2007.

Martin, John J. “The Nature of the Atonement.” The American Journal of Theology 14.3 (1910): 382-405.

Norrie, Alan. Punishment, Responsibility and Justice: A Relational Critique. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.

Pozzulo, Joanna D., and Ron Lindsay. “Eyewitness Identification, Accuracy of Children.” Children and the Law: The Essential Readings. Ed. Ray Bull. London: Blackwell, 2001. 180-83.

Puschmann-Nalenz, Barbara. “Ethics in Ian McEwan’s Twenty-First Century Novels: Individuals and Society and the Problem of Free Will.” Ian McEwan’s Art and Politics. Ed. Pascal Nicklas. Heilderberg: Universitätsverlag, 2009. 187-212.

Radzik, Linda. “Making Amends.” American Philosophical Quarterly 41.2 (2004): 141-54.

Smith, John Cyril, and Brian Hogan. Criminal Law: Cases and Materials. London: Butterworths, 1999.

Schwalm, Helga. “Figures of Authorship, Empathy & the Ethics of Narrative: (Mis-)Recognition in Ian McEwan’s Later Fiction.” Ian McEwan’s Art and Politics. Ed. Pascal Nicklas. Heilderberg: Universitätsverlag, 2009. 173-185.

Sweet, David. “Sacrifice, Atonement and Legal Ethics.” The Yale Law Journal 113.1 (2003): 219-60.

Walton, Douglas N. Witness Testimony Evidence: Argumentation, Artificial Intelligence, and Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Ward, Ian. Law and Literature: Possibilities and Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

Ward, Ian. “From Literature to Ethics: The Strategies and Ambitions of Law and Literature.” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 14.3 (1994): 389-400.

Wierzbicka, Anna. Experience, Evidence and Sense: The Hidden Cultural Legacy of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Wyschogrod, Edith. “Repentance and Forgiveness: The Undoing of Time.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 60.1/3 (2006): 157-68.






Articles (general section) - British and Postcolonial literatures in English