The Tallis sisters are as different as one can expect through such a large age gap: Cecilia, the wallflower, and Briony, the easily influenced dreamer. Connected only in family and seemingly nothing else, the sister’s vary in the interests, tidiness, and taste, or lack of taste, in men.
Both stubborn and hardheaded, however, they are set in their ways.
Through Emily’s eyes, Cecelia “…had no job or skill and still a husband to find and motherhood to confront…” (62). A woman ahead of her time, Cecelia seemed to have her head in the clouds, refusing to be stuck in the same situation as her mother. The typical Victorian era lifestyle would not please her. The boring everyday tasks would not entertain her desire for adventure. Indecisive in even the most simple of tasks, Cecelia changed her dress three times before the faithful dinner party that would determine her future.
Impulsive and erratic in her behavior, she flung herself into the fountain, “…drowning herself would be [Robbie’s] punishment” (29). Rather than thinking her actions through, Cecelia just acts. She does not write, nor speak, she just responds. She loves and lives freely, unbound by society.
Rather than live her own adventure tale, the youngest Tallis, Briony, would rather write. Emily described her as “…the softest little thing…to love her was to be soothed” (62). Rather than the delicate flower that her mother describes, the audience sees an unsavory character in Briony. Perhaps a situation of age, we see an immature girl allow the thoughts of others to poison her judgment and cause the downfall of two beloved characters.
A dreamer and a writer, the notion that “…reading a sentence and understanding it were the same thing” seemed a mantra by which Briony lived (35). Everything taken a face value, Robbie’s explicit use of a word and actions beyond Briony’s wildest imagination must make his a maniac. Black and white, rather than grey, there were only two sides to the stories the Briony would tell. Fair, because her age does not allow her the life expertise that would enable her to fill in her world with color.
Sisters are different. In no world would we assume them to have the same thoughts, ideals, and values. We can assume however, for this novel, that this tension between the two and the actions of the younger will have drastic consequences.