Briony succeeds in weaving many convincing stories, and ultimately the overall novel. When she witnesses the events between Cecilia and Robbie, she takes up her role again as story writer–which is problematic.
Before this epic moment, Briony powerfully admits that she hadn’t considered the autonomy and reality of other people:
“Was everyone else really as alive as she was?…If the answer was yes, then the world, the social world, was unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone’s thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone’s claim on life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique, when no one was.”
While this moment paints Briony as self-aware and able to see the consequences of actions on other, real people, we must consider how we get this moment. As we find out at the close of the novel, **SPOILER ALERT** Briony is the author and narrator of this dramatic story. Thus, we are seeing a grown woman remarking on her life and that may put words in the mouth of her child-like state. I propose this because Briony’s actions do not reflect an understanding of everyone else’s importance in life.
It would be unfair to say that Briony disregards the emotions of other people entirely, but her tendency to construct stories around them shows a disregard for their autonomy and ability to make their own decisions. In her version of Robbie and Cecilia’s time in front of the fountain, she has destroyed the character and life of Robbie in her attempt to write a story to make sense of the world.“Wasn’t writing a kind of soaring, an achievable form of flight, of fancy, of the imagination?” The problem with Briony’s beautiful imagination is how it impacts those around her. She interprets the events that she sees and crafts the most fantastical story. This event shapes her and creates a guilt that she later tries to assuage by changing the end of the story.
Ironically, Briony later states that unhappiness comes from “the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you.” Briony finds that her young cousins make poor actors in the play that she puts on for her brother and thus subconsciously chooses new characters to write about and unintentionally changes the lives of everyone around her. Briony is not a bad person, though I can think of some who disagree, but she is guilty of being unable to understand what goes on around her and this inability to read the situation destroys lives.