An Ethical Literary Approach to Atonement从文学伦理学视角解读《赎罪》文献综述

 2021-10-20 19:18:28

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1.Introduction1.1 Research backgroundIan McEwan (1948-), best known for his short stories and novels, is one of the most prolific writers in modern Britain. He is an expert at describing the unrest and fear of modern people, unveiling violence, death, lust and evil. His novels often focus on the alienation of human psyche and ethical dilemma. As a child, McEwan lived in Libya with his parents, who did not like living abroad but did not want to return home, thereby drifting like rootless clouds from one naval base to another. In McEwans view, his parents marriage was a mess. His father was a heavy drinker, a man with a strong patriarchal mentality and a tendency to violence, while his mother was always anxious. Like his mother, McEwan was horrified by his fathers rudeness but he never tried to resist. He once joked that his literary DNA came from his mother because she was a woman full of worries and worry required imagination. In all his childhood, he lived in loneliness, so he relied on imagination to relieve his depression and fear. His parents terrible marriage had a large impact on his literary works. In his early works, family ethics often played an indispensable role in his fictions. What should be noticed is that he always focuses on faulty families, where the role of parents is often missing and family ethics is violated just as detailed depicted in Atonement. When he was 11, his parents sent him to Woolverstone Hall School, a boarding school in England, where he spent four years. Most of its pupils were working-class children from broken families, who were rude and brutal. The shy and sensitive boy went through a period of psychological shock, during which he consciously or unconsciously used the word sexual hell to depict it. Therefore, it is not difficult to find that McEwan often depicts the ethical dilemma troubled teenagers make. In Between the Sheets (2010) continued this absurd and dreadful style, which earned him Ian Macabre. Atonement (2001), McEwans first novel in the 21st century, focuses on the humanity, war, trauma, and the most important thing, ethics. McEwan keeps his unique style in this novel which comes to an end with sadness. What he tries to convey is that anything against ethics will bring great disaster. It is set during the second world war, a turbulent period that makes the ethical dilemma even more challenging. Set in three time periods (1935 England, wartime England and France, and present-day England), it covers an upper-class girl, Brionys half-innocent mistake that ruins her life. 13-year-old Briony is full of dreams and passion. She has a big sister, Cecilia, who has a relationship with Robbie, the son of their maid. Briony accidentally encounters their sexual act and misunderstands it as an attack. When Brionys cousin, Lola, is raped by an assailant, she arbitrarily regards the person as Robbie and identifies him as the rapist to the police, claiming she has seen Robbies face. Robbie is imprisoned. Later, he joins the army during the second world war. Cecilia has cut off all contact with her family because of the part they take in sending Robbie to jail and becomes a nurse. When Briony grows up, she realizes her jealousy ruins all their lives. Her adulthood is in the shadow of that mistake, and begins to achieve salvation by means of writing. Widely regarded as one of McEwans best works, Atonement was adapted into an Oscar-winning film and reached an unprecedented shock to the world. It finally won the WH. Smith Prize for Literature in 2002, National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award in 2003, and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel in 2004. It is widely believed that every serious narrative work must carry its unique moral implications and have strong ethical meanings, so this thesis aims to analyze Atonement in an ethical literary approach so as to provide lessons and experience for modern readers. 1.2 Literature review Ian McEwans Atonement has gained abundance of attention from both the critical field since its publication. Research on Atonement at home and abroad has been on the rise. In China, according to CNKI, there are over 300 articles on Atonement from book review to literary comments. Excellent in both techniques and content, it is studied from multiple points of view. For instance, Xiang interprets the narrative strategy of metafiction and intertextuality, declaring that through the construction of metafiction and the use of intertextuality, Atonement realizes the integration of narrative behavior and narrative content (2012: 2). Yang (2018) elucidates ethical orders, claiming that the old order and so-called justice Briony sticks to in her childhood collapses and new order representing the pursuit of justice and regret for the past can never be established. However, only few scholars dig into the theme salvation. Zhang (2018) interprets within the framework of Lu Shuyuans spiritual ecology theory the spiritual ecological state in the portrayal of Briony, suggesting that only constructing a harmonious spiritual ecology can one realize ones salvation. Zhou (2019) analyzes within the framework of James narrative theory the common role of the narrative perspective and the overall structure of the novel in the presentation and promotion of the themes, and probes into Brionys difficult salvation.According to Springer, there are over 600 articles on Atonement overseas. Scholars abroad take diverse attitudes towards Atonement. Unlike Chinese scholars, researchers abroad tend to focus on the real salvation of Briony and discuss if she can really remedy her sin. What should be noticed is that scholars abroad hold a negative attitudes towards her redemption. For example, Shah (2009) contends that McEwans novels are patently hopeless because the salvation that she wants to achieve through the happy ending in her own writing does not satisfy readers. Therefore, his diagnostic aesthetic of postmodern malaise is incomplete and ineffectual. Alistair Cormack claims that Ian McEwans Atonement is a rejection of postmodernism and a return to F. R. Leaviss Great Tradition (Mathews, 2017). Many critics point out the ambiguities of Atonement, a postmodernist anti-nostalgic novel, brings to the fore all the traditional English culture to denounce them as sham (Delesalle, 2018). Sykes (2018) holds that Atonement demonstrates commendable self-conscious, postmodern realism, but McEwan ultimately allows Briony to fall victim to the self-deception typical of the heirs to Rousseau. Atonement is ultimately a monologue, which has cut itself off from true transcendence. Briony fails to manage historical memory, comforting readers rather than making historical records, and McEwans novel itself, restricting Brionys work within a measure of critical distance, does not offer consolation. Readers must move beyond Brionys shortcomings and toward a more nuanced acceptance of history's traumas, of the damages of war, and sexual violence: a way to truly do justice to historical memory (Weston, 2019). Other perspectives include narrative techniques, but it is relatively less than those studies on the theme sin of the novel. What should be paid attention to is that while scholars in China tend to analyze the specific figures in this novel, scholars abroad tend to discuss ways of salvation in a more critical attitudes. Generally, the exploration of ethics in the ethical literary approach hasnt been probed into; therefore, this thesis is devoted to discussing the ethical relationships in the family and in love. Family ethical relationships include those of the Tallis couples, between the Tallis couple and their children, between Cecilia and Briony. Love ethical relationships include Brionys immature love for Robbie, immoral love between Lola and Marshall and true love between Cecilia and Robbie.1.3 Need of the studyFrom 1.2 Literature Review, it is easy to find that there is a big gap between the depth and breadth of the research on Atonement at home and abroad. Firstly, a systematic study of Atonement and McEwans work is particularly rare in China. With the continuous introduction of McEwans works, his international reputation is reaching its peak day by day. So this thesis aims to narrow the gap. Secondly, as a new born theory, Ethical Literary Criticism initiated by Chinese critic Nie Zhenzhao is relatively less studied than other approaches, so analyzing the family and love ethics of this novel from the perspective of Ethical Literary Criticism will provide a new case for the theory. Lastly, by revealing the improper ethics in the family and in love, this thesis will offer some inspirations to modern people, wakening their self-consciousness and ethical pursuit of harmonious relationships.2. The theory on Ethical Literary Criticism2.1 Definition and backgroundGenerally speaking, since the reform and opening up, Chinese literary criticism has almost been dominated by western theories, which exposes the problem of heavily relying on applying foreign literary theories mechanically and blindly to the interpretation of literary texts as well as largely deviating our literary composition and criticism from Chinas soil. In view of the already-existing problems in Chinas critical field pointed out by Wu Yuanmai, Nie Zhenzhao proposes Ethical Literary Criticism. At the beginning of the 21st century, Ethical Literary Criticism developed in China is a new theory for studying literature based on the methods of the western criticism and ethics. The appearance of Ethical Literary Criticism in the western literary criticism field increases our voices and provides a new choice of our literary research methods. Whats more, it attaches importance to the ethical value of literature, enabling itself to show new charm.Ethical Literary Criticism is initiated by Nie Zhenzhao in 2004 at a national academic seminar in Nanchang named Study on British and American Literature in China: Reflection and Looking Forward. In 2010, he refined the definition. According to Nie Zhenzhao, Ethical Literary Criticism is a kind of theory to read, analyze and interpret literary works, and study authors as well as literary problems from the perspective of ethics. It believes that literature is a unique expressive way of ethical and moral life in a certain historical period. Ethical Literary Criticism is not a moral criticism of literature, but an investigation of literature from the perspective of historical development, and an ethical explanation of literature in different periods. 2.2 Core concepts Nie Zhenzhao constructs a relatively self-contained theoretical system of Ethical Literary Criticism, with the primary concepts ethics, ethical taboo, ethical identity, ethical lines, ethical knots and ethical chaos , etc. In the system of Ethical Literary Criticism, the basic meaning of ethics mainly refers to the social system, the objective existence of ethical relations and ethical order between people and society (Nie, 2010). In specific literary works, the core content of ethics is the accepted and recognized ethical order formed between man and man, man and society, man and nature, as well as the moral concepts formed on the basis of this order and various norms to maintain this order.In literature, taboo is often the core value of works. Ethical taboo is an ethical norm formed by human efforts to control free instinct, namely the primitive desire. The formation of taboo is the result of human efforts to get rid of ignorance. While describing the taboo, the primitive desires of people are also fully described, from which we can see the influence of primitive desire on mans destiny.Ethical identity refers to the corresponding code of conduct in the defined relationship. Giving up ethical identity means giving up ethical responsibilities and obligations, which means the destruction of the ethical order that has been formed and accepted by the society at that time. Therefore, it is not surprising that the confusion of ethical identity will lead to tragedy. From the perspective of Ethical Literary Criticism, almost all literary texts are records of peoples moral experience. In almost all literary texts, there are one or more ethical lines and ethical knots. The ethical line is closely related to the ethical structure, which can be regarded as the vertical ethical structure of literary texts while the ethical knots can be deemed as the horizontal ethical structure of literary works.In literary works, ethical chaos is manifested as devoid of ration and disregard or destruction of taboos. In most literary texts, almost all ethical knots are formed in ethical chaos. If ethical chaos cannot be reduced to order or cannot be reconstructed in order, a tragic text will be composed. To facilitate the discussion, it is necessary to have a clear idea about these core concepts to be used in the thesis. Whats more, the relevant analysis will be strictly based on the definition of these core concepts.2.3 FunctionsEthical Literary Criticism encourages readers to comprehend ethics and cultures beyond themselves, and to recognize a plurality of human conditions and realities. The purpose of Ethical Literary Criticism is not simply to judge the value of literature from the standpoint of ethics, but to use its own unique methods to make an objective ethical analysis, induction and summary of various social phenomena in literature. When post-structuralism finds itself in a dilemma due to its anti-humanistic and highly politicized methods, Ethical Literary Criticism offers literary criticism a way to evaluate ideological criticism. Focusing on literary studies, Ethical Literary Criticism has a wide-ranging possibilities for intellectual and interpersonal development and has illuminated a great many ways that the literary works interweave with the real life. ReferencesBrian, F. (2004). Brionys stand against oblivion: The making of fiction in Ian McEwans Atonement, Journal of modern literature, 3, 68-82.Chen, J. (2017). The ethical dilemmas and ethical choices in Atonement. Blooming season, 7,16-17.Delesalle, N, C. (2018). Atoning for nostalgia in Ian McEwans Atonement. Humanities, 7, 105.Gregory, M. W. (1998). Ethical criticism: What it is and why it matters. Style, 32, 194-220.Mathews, P. D. (2017). What are novelists for? Atonement and the British novel. Atlantis, 39, 11-28. McEwan, I. (2002). Atonement. New York: Penguin Random House.Nie, Z. Z. (2010). Ethical literary criticism: Its fundaments and terms. Foreign literature studies, 1, 12-22.Nie, Z. Z. (2015). Towards an ethical literary criticism. Arcadia, 3, 83-101.Shah, B. M. (2009). The sin of Ian McEwans fictive Atonement: Reading his later novels. New blackfriars, 90, 38-49. Sykes, J. D. (2018). God and self in the confessional novel. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Tian, J. (2019). Nie Zhenzhao and the genesis of Chinese ethical literary criticism. Comparative literature studies, 56, 402-420. Todd, D. F., Womack, K. (1998). Introduction: Reading literature and the ethics of criticism. Style, 32, 184-193.Weston, E. (2019). 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