Atonement and Romeo & Juliet Term Paper

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Sampson proclaims, "A dog of the house of Montague moves me," declaring any person from the Montague family has the power to make him angry (I.i.7). The conflict between the two houses is reason why Romeo and Juliet are met with such obstacles to be together, and contributes to their need to take extreme measures, i.e. fake their death and ultimately commit suicide, to escape them. Romeo and Juliet first meet under circumstances where they are not aware of their family affiliations. Once their familial identities are revealed, however, their attraction is enhanced, not hindered. For Romeo to wed a Capulet and Juliet to wed a Montague is the most extreme act of rebellion against family expectation. This form of rebellion also has a "forbidden fruit" effect. Individuals tend to want something they cannot have and this includes romantic love interests. By family principle, Romeo is not allowed to be involved with, or have, Juliet and vice versa. This makes the prospect of having Juliet, a forbidden object, all the more enticing.

The idea of having someone you cannot, and should not, have applies to the romantic relationship between Robbie and Cecilia in Atonement. The worlds of Cecilia and Robbie are separated by economic and social class. Cecilia and Robbie have known each other since childhood; Robbie has lived on the Tallis property as the son of the housekeeper. Their social status, however, begins to equalize when they both attend Cambridge University. The higher level of education experienced by both Robbie and Cecilia puts them on a more even social field. Although Robbie expresses ambition to become a doctor, there is still a noted distinction between their respective classes. Cecilia questions why Robbie wants to be a doctor and he replies, "Look, I've agreed to pay your father back. That's the arrangement" (McEwan 25). Although Cecilia was not insinuating the cost of medical school when asking her question, Robbie immediately assumes that finances are the motivation behind her questioning as he never forgets the economic class that distinguishes them. Their romantic relationship signifies their rebellion; as dictated by society, Cecilia is never supposed to engage with a member of a lower class. By this principle, Cecilia and Robbie are forbidden from one another, which only intensify their feelings for each other and enhance their illusion of love.

The role of marriage as a means for security is a great contributor to false illusions of love. Romeo and Juliet was written in the late 16th century and significantly adheres to the concept of marriage as personal security. For the female, marriage was a matter of livelihood and economic survival. Women were expected to be mothers and homemakers, and being married was the only way a woman was expected to contribute to society. The first scene with Juliet includes an exchange between her, the Nurse, and Lady Capulet about marriage. The noble Paris has taken an interest in Juliet and Lady Capulet explains how marriage is a requirement for women of Juliet's age.

"Well, think of marriage now. Younger than you

Here in Verona, ladies of esteem

Are made already mothers. By my count,

I was your mother much upon these years

That you are now a maid" (I.iii.71-75).

Prior to meeting Romeo, Lady Capulet paints a clear picture: girls from noble families that are younger than Juliet are already married and are mothers. She is pressuring Juliet to marry as this is her duty, and further explains that she was Juliet's age when she gave birth to her. Lady Capulet says later in the scene, "So shall you share all that he doth possess/By having him, making yourself no less" (I.iii.95-96). She stresses that a union between Juliet and Paris would maintain her wealth and noble status, which would ensure her security. Juliet meets Romeo, who is also from a wealthy family and symbolizes a beacon of security. Knowing that Romeo, like Paris, has the means to provide for her adds to Juliet's romantic attraction. Juliet has already been pressured by her mother to marry, and this external influence causes Juliet to love Romeo. Marriage is Juliet's only responsibility to secure her livelihood, and her marriage to Romeo satisfies her family's expectation to wed.

Over three-hundred years later in 1930s London, marriage is still valued as a security measure for women. The pressure for Cecilia to marry is also encouraged by her mother, Emily. During Emily Tallis's introduction she is confined to the bedroom due to migraine headaches. While in bed, Emily is considering the life of Cecilia and contemplates how the role of women had started to change during her generation. Emily was educated at home and was expected to be a homemaker, and she believes Cecilia's education at Cambridge has ruined her chances to marry. Emily heavily regards marriage as a woman's singular purpose and feels education is a distraction from the expectations of women. Emily explains she is hopeful her eldest son, Leon, will bring home a friend for Cecilia to marry because she feels her time at Cambridge has "made her an impossible prospect" (McEwan 61). She feels Cecilia's time at Cambridge was pointless because "she had no job or skill and still had a husband to find and motherhood to confront" (McEwan 62). There is no doubt that Cecilia is expected to marry. Now that she is home from school, there is less time to waste and Cecilia is more eager to find a husband. The romantic interest for Robbie is a reflection of Cecilia's urgency to "find love" and be married.

The concept of young love and its implications for romantic relationships is more empirical in nature. Young love refers to the naive, immature, and unsophisticated approach to a romantic relationship. Young love is often fueled by passion and is less associated with the evaluation of life implications or any foreseeable consequences. Romeo and Juliet were teenagers when they first met and were overcome with the intensity of their feelings for one another. Within one day of meeting, Romeo and Juliet were married. Their hasty marriage is an extreme and signifies the power of young love. Romeo and Juliet were so overcome with their immediate feelings they did not entertain the idea of further consequences. The young couple was not experiencing true love; they were blind to the implications of their marriage and wed based on their shared passion, not romantic love.

Robbie and Cecilia also experienced the consequences of young love, but to a lesser degree than that of Romeo and Juliet. Robbie and Cecilia were both of a university age, which is older than Romeo and Juliet, but still young enough to associate with the immature approach to their relationship. Robbie and Cecilia's illusion of love is dictated by their passion. Within only twelve hours, Robbie and Cecilia have their first intense, personal encounter by the fountain after the porcelain vase breaks, and then make love for the first time that evening in the library. Their young love is overshadowed by passion, and their idea of love is directed by their naive perspective. The immature, and naive approach to romantic relationships is the external factor that drives Robbie and Cecilia to believe they are experiencing love.

Love for Personal Gain

Romeo and Juliet and Atonement provide evidence to suggest external factors are responsible for creating an illusion of love. Romeo and Juliet, and Cecilia and Robbie, were not in love, but the external factors of desire to rebel, security, and the psychology of young love made the couple believe they were experiencing true love. From the discussion an implication arises: is love a tool for personal gain? The product of true love represents a personal gain in companionship. In the context of these works, however, love and marriage is considered a method to obtain economic security and to satisfy familial and societal expectations. Love is not a personal, intimate, and unique bond between two people but is equated to a business transaction. The experience of "falling in love" is really a procedure for establishing economic security and fulfilling a societal role. The influences of external factors on love depict love as a system of personal gain and socioeconomic advancement.


Concepts of love and the nature of romantic relationships have been explored as major literary themes for millennia. Plays, novels, and the like try to explain how love impacts human life and how love influences the human experience. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and McEwan's Atonement both offer love stories that illustrate love as an organic incident. These works do not account for how life's external factors influence how, who, and why individuals fall in love. How individuals "fall in love" is influenced by social networks, cultural views, sociodemographic, and the psychological need to adapt to emotions and situations. The external factors relevant to both Romeo and Juliet, and Robbie and Cecilia are notions of rebellion, security, and young…[continue]

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