In both wanted different things. The characters may

In On Chesil Beach, McEwan
uses a variety of techniques, such as flashbacks, in order to capture the
thoughts and feelings that have already passed for the characters. Within the
text, time is expressed both literally in the form of dates and historical
events, societal norms and expectations, yet also through metaphorical ‘moments
in time’ that the characters remember and reminisce upon. The setting of the novel is also supported by
occasional references and groundings to actual dates, such as the date of
Florence’s and Edwards wedding in 1962 and the death of Edwards mother, all
important to the novel and the time period, so carefully crafted by the writer which
makes this plot work.

            First of all, the most significant way McEwan captures
a precise moment of time is through the title of his work ‘On Chesil Beach’,
the setting of the novel and the penultimate place in which time itself becomes
the turning point for the couple, Florence and Edward. The beach and what
happened between the couple there, when Edward ‘let that girl with her violin
go’ (p. 165) is an important indication by McEwan of the sense of time
stopping, of a moment completely overwhelming the pair and ultimately affecting
the characters for the rest of their lives. This climactic moment of their
relationship is make or break for them, and in the end, they fail one another. All
Florence needed ‘was the certainty of his love, and his reassurance that there
was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them’ however Edward was too forceful
and inconsiderate of his new wife’s feeling. The beach is now associated with tragedy and heartbreak, reminding them
of how they could not make their marriage work and forcing them to accept that
they both wanted different things. The characters may be able to escape their
feelings in time but never the beach- a reminder that their lives stopped
there, and yet they continued on in body, not in spirit.

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When Florence and Edward meet for the first time, this is
also seen to be a moment in which McEwan’s captures a precise instant of time
and makes the clocks stop for readers, presenting the couple as though they are
in their own little world where the rules of time are their own, showing how
besotted they first were with each other. Edward goes on to makes several
observations about her, ‘a lovely face, with a sculpted look that in a certain
light brought to mind an American Indian woman, a highborn squaw’ but ‘He had not paused as he entered
the room’ (p. 48), implying that for him, time slows
down as he looks at her and consequently, emphasising the attraction between
them both. However, the writer captures the precise moment when the couple first
fall in love through a flashback of a ‘snatched Saturday afternoon’ (p. 57), a
day they frequently repeat and reminisce over, something that becomes a
secretive mantra only they know, only strengthening their relationship.

On the other hand, when Florence leaves Edward for the
last time, this too captures a precise sense of time. The choice of simple
language ‘I am sorry, Edward. I am most terribly sorry’ (p.

157) shows the pain and heartache behind her words, without her really saying
much at all, although what she doesn’t say that causes the agony. The
repetition of the lexis ‘sorry’ (p. 157) stresses the love she has for Edward,
yet she knows she has to walk away from their almost toxic relationship and
clashing ideas and feelings. Florence’s very sincere yet short and formal
apology mimics her contrasting nature and feelings towards Edward. This pain and
somber tone tinges the rest of the novel until its upsetting conclusion and the
moment in time in which this occurs stays with the reader throughout. Due to a
lack of communication, their unexpressed misunderstandings of sex and
perceptions of relationships between a man and a woman caused tension within
the marriage and ultimately lead to their downfall, which is arguably caused by
a wider context of time and the confusions of culture. In this way, McEwan is once
again creating a freeze frame of this moment, and all of its complexity and ridiculous,
contradictorily rules and expectations are show-cased and incarnated within both
of the characters.

The old-fashioned, outdated language used by Florence
is another way in which the writer captures a specific moment of time.

Similarly, it adds a sense of antiquity to her character, as well as social
concepts to her beliefs and behaviours. Fascinatingly however, it can be seen
that her opinions are particularly left-wing, showing a more rebellious and
brave side to her character as she goes against the views of her more
right-wing parents and her strict, conservative upbringing. During the time in
which the text is set, the females were ‘still raised in the shadow of holy
virginity’2 and thus,
Florence would have had inflexibly high expectations of herself as a woman,
highlighting the enormous amount of stress and pressure women and girls were
under. The language and phrases she uses supports the more literal and
carefully captured sense of times in other, more metaphorical instances
throughout the novel. For example, the definite mention of Florence’s
old-fashioned, formal language ‘her words, their particular archaic
construction, would haunt him for a long time to come’ reveal that even
her language is suppressed and trapped within itself. The formalities expected
of her as a young woman and the rules and regulations imposed on her trap her
within a war-like state that she cannot free herself from.

            One way
McEwan captures a precise sense of time in the novel is through the
constrictions and rules enforced upon the two characters, Edward and Florence,
reflecting the social norms and expectations of men and women in the early
1950’s and 1960’s and therefore capturing the time period of which the novel is
set. The idea that the couple are ‘never agreed or voiced’ (p. 21) shows the
authority and unquestionable rule of the elders in their relationship, as
Edward and Florence are only 21 and 26 and it was perceived that they weren’t
experienced nor old enough to be trusted, with their sexual desires especially.

This is highlighted more specifically in the characterization of Edward, who represents a period of approaching sexual revolution
with his passion and openness to sexual relationship with Florence, where as she
is much more reserved. ‘When they kissed she immediately felt his tongue,
tensed and strong, pushing past her teeth, like some bully shouldering his way
into a room.’ The simile shows that Florence didn’t want to kiss Edward, in
particular, the lexis ‘shouldering’ shows that it was forced and not out of
love and desire. Florence’s character and attitudes convey the strict moral values and rules
of the time, when sex was not a pleasure but an almost duty between wife and
husband, and the pair must marry before engaging in a sexual
relationship. The writer’s accuracy of the
projecting culture helps to perfectly capture a precise sense of time for the

            McEwan explores Florence’s struggle
with her fears and sexuality, another way in which a precise sense of time is
established. Florence ‘suspected that there was something profoundly wrong with
her’, she was afraid of giving herself away, opening up to someone and being
afraid of what may come of it in the future, in the same way she was scared of
having sex with Edward. When at the point of losing her virginity, she
‘imagined herself clinging to this moment, the precious present’ and for this
short period in time she is suspended, indicating her naivety and inexperience,
yet more importantly, her vulnerability, expressed through McEwan’s metaphor
and her own wish to alter her perception of time itself. This incessant worry
allows McEwan to capture and retell her previous memories, showing how her
fears haven’t passed at all and she’s still infected with these exact same
anxieties. For instance, when reading about sexual organs, ‘she came across
certain phrases or words that almost made her gag’ (p.

7) however they only tell the story of the logical, medical side of sex and
inform her nothing of the passionate, romantic side, reinforcing her innocence.

The startled memory of reading this book captures all of the happiness of her
marriage and sex and holds it hostage, ‘her whole being was in revolt against
the prospect of entanglement and flesh’, showing that she’s never been able to move past this point in their

            Florence is depicted by McEwan as an exaggerated
stereotype of woman in this specific time period, who is seen to be tied down
by her archaic upbringing and the many societal pressures and demands she is
faced with throughout her day-to-day life, helping McEwan further to capture a
precise snippet of time. ‘She was alone with a problem she did not know how to
begin to address’, this highlighting the many unspoken issues women experienced
at this time, showing how Florence is isolated and left to deal with things by
herself. The isolation and loneliness stems from the fact that sexual and
personal matters were considered highly private and therefore does not know who
to turn to for help. Furthermore, she cannot go to Edward for advice or to
unload her problems and feelings as at this time, she, and women in general,
would not have been encouraged to do so, capturing the problems and downfalls
in society during this period.

            For the entirety of the text, numerous historical references and profound points in time, in terms of
advances in contraception for example, are turned into ironic jokes by the
writer. ‘The Pill was a rumour in the newspapers, a ridiculous promise’ (p. 39).

This is considered ironic because we know now the success and the great impact
the pill has had as modern readers. The fact that this is scorned and regarded
as a ‘ridiculous promise’ then ridicules the time period being depicted by
McEwan for being outdated. Not only this, it skillfully points out the
differences in feelings towards sexuality being portrayed during this time

            To conclude, McEwan uses various
techniques, such as flashbacks, use of language, characterization and a complex
and multi-framed narration in order to successfully portray time and capture
precise moments. Historical contexts are intertwined within the text to portray
the mid-20th century period, the culture and the societal
views of the time are analysed. The roles of men and women are mainly
questioned, mocked and incarnated through the characters, Edward and Florence.

Both characters are unable to forget about precise moments that will forever
haunt them. The entire novel represents a missed opportunity in time for their
marriage; the time period is wrong, the timing of their relationship is wrong,
and so the outcome is wrong. Time is also captured through specific instants
remembered by the characters, in which those certain spots of time light up
brighter than the rest of their monotonous and lonely lives.



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