Spies

by

Michael Frayn

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Spies: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Stephen now realizes that he is shut off from the well-ordered world of the Haywards forever. He sees Keith and Keith’s father outside the house once in a while, but never Keith’s mother. He considers the idea of telling a grown-up everything he knows, so he tries to tell his own family, but he can’t. Stephen then tries to write what he has seen in a letter to Mr. McAfee, but he does not send the letter because “telling tales” is wrong.
Although he tries to report Keith’s mother to Mr. McAfee, Stephen stops himself because he does not want to be “telling tales.” The idea of “telling tales” relies on the validity of the secret, because it is wrong to say something untrue about someone else. Thus Frayn explores the relationship between secrecy and reality—only if the secret is true, rather than imagined, is it worth telling.
Themes
Secrecy Theme Icon
Stephen is in the lookout alone when Barbara joins him again. They see Keith going shopping for Auntie Dee—he now does it instead of his mother. Stephen feels guilty because he thinks it is his fault that Keith’s mother cannot leave the house. Barbara speculates that Keith’s mother was caught with a boyfriend and isn’t allowed out of the house. Then Stephen and Barbara see Keith’s mother leaving the house with letters in her hand. Keith’s father comes outside to walk with her to the post, which Stephen initially thinks is strangely “affectionate” of him. Stephen then realizes that Mrs. Hayward is effectively a prisoner of her husband now. The slime on her dress (from her collision with Stephen in the tunnel) gave her away, and now Keith’s father won’t let her go anywhere without him.
It seems that Keith’s mother’s secret (which increasingly seems to be that she’s having an affair) has been partially discovered by Keith’s father, who now keeps a strict watch on her and does not allow her outside of the house. As was suggested before, the sense of paranoia and fear created by the War extends to the home and the very structure of the family. Although Stephen consistently dismisses Barbara’s chatter, the reader will later find out that she is entirely correct.
Themes
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Stephen and Barbara continue to watch the Haywards. Keith's mother lingers, contemplating the sky, and then pretends that her heel strap is broken and sends Keith’s father on alone with the letters—except for one. She then comes over to the hideout, looking for Stephen, but when she sees Barbara there as well, she only invites him to tea. Barbara suspects that Keith’s mother wanted Stephen to deliver the letter for her, and Stephen feels awful.
Stephen once more feels guilty, as if he were the one responsible for the Haywards’ problems. Keith’s mother now seems to seek out Stephen as a trustworthy friend, since she has no other friends to turn to.
Themes
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
One day Stephen sees a crowd of children surrounding Auntie Dee’s house, because a policeman is inside talking with her. The children say “the man was hanging round again last night,” speculating that it could be a peeping Tom or even a sexual deviant. Barbara is there with the other children, and she looks significantly at Stephen, showing that she won’t reveal what she knows to the others—for Stephen’s sake.
The visit of the policeman is a spectacle for the entire neighborhood, and the paranoia that originates from the war spurs the children’s imaginations about the reason for the police visit. Stephen and Barbara also reach a new closeness with this significant glance, marking a secret shared between them.
Themes
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
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The policeman then comes out of the house, passes by the suspicious Trewinnick house—which the children think he’ll enter—and heads to the Haywards’ house. Stephen sees Keith coming home from school, but he is unable to say anything to him, and Keith looks at Stephen with contempt.
While Stephen has complicated new relationships with Keith’s mother and Barbara, it seems that Keith himself has cut him off. Keith clearly allies himself with his father rather than his mother.
Themes
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Later Stephen sits in the lookout with Barbara, feeling like a failure. Barbara tells him that it must be Keith’s mother’s boyfriend that caused the whirl of events. She says that her mother went out last night looking for Deirdre, and saw the mysterious man. Barbara then says that she knows where Deirdre was—with Geoff. She says that Deirdre and Geoff meet up to smoke together and kiss. Stephen pretends to already know this.
This conversation brings up more instances of secrecy among the inhabitants of the Close, ranging from the innocent to the potentially criminal. It’s becoming increasingly likely that Auntie Dee’s “boyfriend,” the tramp, and Keith’s mother’s mysterious man are all the same person.
Themes
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Barbara asks Stephen if he has ever smoked a cigarette, and he claims that he has, “loads and loads.” She clearly doesn’t believe him, but pretends to and asks him more about it. Then she finds a stubbed-out cigarette in the dirt, and Stephen feels dizzy to think that other strangers are coming into his and Keith’s secret hideout. Barbara plays with the cigarette and puts it in her mouth, and Stephen cries out that she’ll get germs from it. Barbara suspects that Geoff and Deirdre were here smoking and kissing, and Stephen is horrified.
The various invasions of Stephen’s lookout symbolize a kind of infiltration of private space that occurs on many different levels in the book—people are invading the lookout from which Stephen and Keith invade others’ privacy. Stephen is overwhelmed by the thought that he is not alone in having so many secrets.
Themes
Secrecy Theme Icon
Barbara asks Stephen for a match, and then leans over Stephen to examine the locked box that he and Keith keep in the lookout. She asks Stephen if he’ll open it, and he obediently gets the key from under the rock where it’s hidden. He then opens the box and lets Barbara see what is inside, and she asks about the carving knife (which he insists is a bayonet, but then starts to doubt himself) and the blue sock.
Stephen feels helpless to resist Barbara, as she seems to have taken Keith’s place as the domineering figure in his life. Already the imaginations that had seemed so real to Stephen (like the identity of the “bayonet”) start to crumble.
Themes
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Barbara finds a box of matches and the two start smoking the cigarette. Stephen feels a dizzying sense of freedom from breaking “meaningless oaths” and opening locked boxes, like he’s entered a wide new world of adulthood. Stephen and Barbara keep smoking, lie down in the dirt, and “talk about things.” Barbara speculates about Keith’s mother’s boyfriend, and Stephen wants to tell her that Keith’s mother is a German spy, but realizes that the situation is more complicated than that. He then wonders if the cigarette Barbara found in the hideout actually came from the mysterious man.
Barbara and the cigarette play an important role in Stephen’s initiation into adulthood. Stephen states that he no longer feels bound by childish rules, and he also discovers a dizzying new feeling of young love, which comes with its own new world of contradictions and complexities. Yet though everything seems to have changed very suddenly, the mysterious “x” still lingers in Stephen’s mind.
Themes
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Stephen proclaims that everything has changed once again, as he starts to notice the scent of Lamorna (Barbara’s house) everywhere. The word “Lamorna” then becomes stuck in Stephen’s head, representing both Barbara and Keith’s mother for him, and some of the mystery of the word “bosom” and women in general.
As with other words and sensations (like the x), Stephen becomes obsessed with Lamorna and the multiple meanings its sound and aroma carry for him. Lamorna is the name of Barbara’s house, but in Stephen’s senses and emotions it also represents Barbara herself, and interestingly enough, Keith’s mother.
Themes
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Stephen then begins to piece together the puzzle: he thinks Keith’s mother isn’t a spy, but is instead taking care of “x,” a German airman who was shot down. Stephen imagines the airman parachuting down, Keith’s mother finding him, and eventually her “taking him to her bosom.” He feels relief that she’s not a spy, but is still disturbed because of the man’s Germanness and because of the “generalized excitement” Stephen feels in the air, which is associated with Barbara Berrill and Keith’s mother’s “softness” when Stephen ran into her in the tunnel. Stephen again smells the perfume of Lamorna, but over it is a “harsh” and “coarse” aroma coming from the bushes around him. He ends the chapter saying that one afternoon, Keith’s mother approaches him when he is alone in the lookout, and asks him to do something for her.
Stephen’s blossoming sexuality is bound up in his imagined world of spies and the real secrets of the people of the Close, so he connects the “softness” and general mystery he finds in women to certain words, ideas, and sensations (note the allusion to the “harsh” privet creeping into Lamorna). Because of this, his imaginings of Keith’s mother’s spy activities now touch upon sexuality as well, inadvertently bringing him closer to discovering the truth. A new world seems to be opening up to Stephen, but it is still confusing and even frightening in its complexity.
Themes
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon