Spies

by

Michael Frayn

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Spies: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter returns to the present, with Stephen staring at a tub of geraniums situated at what was once the privet lookout point. He notices a boy watching him from the window of the new house that stands there now (where Braemar once was), but he ignores the boy and keeps contemplating the geraniums, questioning what his younger self had understood at that time. He mentions that he sat in the lookout alone for hours, since Keith had stopped coming out to play after their trip to the Barns.
Stephen continues to reflect on his past and also on the nature of memory itself, even as he sees another boy “spying” on him in the present just as he spied on other fifty years ago.
Themes
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Stephen questions what he had known at that time and what he understands even now, and the nature of “understanding” itself. He conjectures that his younger self had probably been thinking that he had broken his promise to Keith’s mother and let her down. He decides that younger Stephen both did and did not think Keith’s mother was a German spy.
In his examination of his younger self, Stephen often reaches contradictory conclusions. As a boy he was able to believe mutually exclusive ideas without unpacking his own confusion.
Themes
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Back in the flashback, Stephen states that he stopped thinking, since he didn’t have Keith to decide what to think for him. He mentions that regardless of whether or not Keith’s mother was a spy, he was sure that she acted suspiciously (and he doesn’t really know what spies do other than act suspiciously). He then shifts his focus onto “x” from the Barns. He assumes that the man is German, but simultaneously believes he is an old tramp, because tramps are covered in germs and “germs” are similar to Germans. He also visits the possibility that “x” could be Auntie Dee’s secret boyfriend, but he quickly abandons that idea. But above all, Stephen wishes that his dizzying array of thoughts would stop and Keith would come up with a new project.
Stephen feels lost without having Keith to decide what he should be thinking—but then he starts to think for himself, in a sign of growing maturity and independence. Stephen also begins to use “x” as a symbol for the man hiding in the Barns, or possibly Auntie Dee’s secret boyfriend. In that way, Stephen begins to delve deeper into secrecy and the infinite possibility of meanings that an unknown entity can hold.
Themes
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Stephen finally gathers up the courage to knock on the Haywards’ door. Keith’s mother opens the door and invites Stephen in to play. He finds Keith quietly cleaning his playroom. After an awkward conversation, Stephen realizes that, although everything seems to have returned to normal, everything has changed and there will be no more projects with Keith. Keith heads to the garage to polish his cricket bat when Keith’s father asks him for their thermos.
This seems like a potential conclusion to the game of “spies,” as Keith is clearly no longer wedded to the idea that his mother is a German spy. Keith’s father’s request for the thermos then upsets everything once more, however.
Themes
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
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Keith states that he doesn’t know what happened to the thermos, and Keith’s father makes him go inside and hits his hands with a cane. Stephen, feeling guilty, waits outside. Keith comes back out, and his father tells him that he’ll be punished every day until the thermos is returned. Keith’s father then asks about Keith’s mother—who’s supposedly at Auntie Dee’s—and smiles a strange smile. Then he goes into the garage and starts sharpening his bayonet.
Up until now, the reader is only told that Keith’s father threatens to cane his son, but in this part of the story, he actually physically punishes Keith for taking the thermos flask. Frayn finally offers a darker glimpse into the actual personality of Keith’s father, who certainly has a tendency towards violence. He also seems to suspect something about Keith’s mother, and his act of sharpening the bayonet seems especially ominous.
Themes
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Stephen runs off, feeling that he must do something to make things right. He knows the thermos is in the Barns (where Keith’s mother had taken it), and he decides to go back to retrieve it, hoping to find Keith’s mother on the way. Running through the tunnel, Stephen crashes into Keith’s mother and they both fall down, Mrs. Hayward getting slime on her dress. Keith’s mother starts to get angry at Stephen, but then Stephen tells her that Keith’s father is looking for the thermos flask, and caned Keith thinking he had taken it. Keith’s mother looks worried, but thanks Stephen and leaves.
Stephen tries to make things right, but again causes new problems. The slime on Keith’s mother’s dress will be nearly impossible to hide or explain away. Keith’s mother thanking Stephen then marks a turning point in their relationship—she is addressing him not only directly, but as a peer, rather than just a naughty child. Her situation is clearly growing more desperate.
Themes
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon