Unexpectedly, a snaky evasion lurks within Dowell’s oscillation as it acts similarly to Stevens’ narrative and inhibits the reader from attaching a level of responsibility to him.
His subtle self-evaluation of his own role during the image of the characters at judgement day aptly represents the reader’s incapacity to judge his actions or pin him to a certain personality: ‘well, perhaps they might find me an elevator to run.’ As he travels between heaven and hell he not only extricates himself to a role of service to join Stevens in his Satrean attitude but also prevents the reader from condemning him to either entity. Dowell’s method of evasion is further illumined by Brideshead Revisited, where Ryder refuses to show any contrition for Sebastian’s demise: ‘I had no love for Sebastian that morning; he needed it, but I had none to give.’ Just as the reader cannot be certain of Dowell’s culpability, Charles’ insensitivity withholds the psychological evidence the reader needs to make their accusations. He forces McDonnell to weakly suggest that, ‘a more loyal friend might, having identified LM’s intentions, have resisted her,’ and thus eludes censure.
Although Briony writes with Stevens’ narrative consistency, the reader’s struggle to judge the culpability of the narrator is most pronounced in Atonement. One could take an alternate reading of the novel and interpret her emphasis on ‘Lola’s dominion’ as an attempt to lessen the responsibility the reader attributes to her; an argument only strengthened by Briony’s use of free indirect discourse to substantiate her victimisation with the testimony of others, just as Stevens has done. Through the perspective of her mother, Briony writes that Lola ‘remain(s) guiltless while others destroyed themselves at her prompting,’ to warrant her insinuation that Lola is more at fault for Robbie’s incarceration. The 2007 Wright film adaptation of Atonement takes this reading of the novel and releases her from her own explicit condemnations yet the reader can never be sure of her true level of culpability.