Spies

by

Michael Frayn

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Stephen Wheatley Character Analysis

The narrator and protagonist of the novel, Stephen is an elderly man who recounts a time in his childhood sixty years before. Describing himself as “the one with the stick-out ears and the too short gray flannel school shirt hanging out of the too long gray flannel school shorts,” Stephen never seems to fit in completely with his surroundings. At school, he is bullied by his classmates, and in his neighborhood he submits to the instructions of his best friend, Keith Hayward. He is particularly self-conscious about his own low social standing and belonging to an inferior middle-class family. Although he portrays himself to be unkempt and mediocre to Keith in every aspect, especially in wealth and competence, Stephen actually shows himself to be meticulous, introspective, and clever—qualities that distinguish him from the more “superior” Keith. On the other hand, Stephen is easily frightened and often unassertive of his thoughts and beliefs. In addition, Stephen shows a consistent aversion towards germs, which is often interpreted as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it could also simply be a psychological product of his acute class awareness. His inability to fit in continues in England until Stephen decides to move to his homeland, Germany, and becomes “Stefan Weitzler.”

Stephen Wheatley Quotes in Spies

The Spies quotes below are all either spoken by Stephen Wheatley or refer to Stephen Wheatley. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Picador edition of Spies published in 2003.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Glimpses of different things flash into my mind, in random sequence, and are gone. A shower of sparks . . . A feeling of shame . . . Someone unseen coughing, trying not to be heard . . .

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker)
Page Number: 5-6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

Everything is as it was, I discover when I reach my destination, and everything has changed.

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Does he know, even at that age, what his standing is in the street? He knows precisely, even if he doesn’t know that he knows it. In the very marrow of his bones he understands that there’s something not quite right about him and his family, something that doesn’t quite fit with the pigtailed Geest girls and the oil-stained Avery boys, and never will.

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Cycling's plainly the right way to go to school; the bus that Stephen catches each day at the cracked concrete bus stop on the main road is plainly the wrong way. Green's the right color for a bicycle, just as it’s the wrong one for a belt or a bus.

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker), Keith Hayward
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

The ways of the Haywards were no more open to questioning or comprehension than the domestic arrangements of the Holy Family.

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Gratitude not only to Keith's mother but to Keith himself, to all the others after him whose adjutant and audience I was, and to everyone else who wrote and performed the drama of life in which I had a small, often frightening, but always absorbing part: Thank you for having me. Thank you, thank you.

Page Number: 31-32
Explanation and Analysis:

What I remember, when I examine my memory carefully, isn’t a narrative at all. It’s a collection of vivid particulars. Certain words spoken, certain objects glimpsed. Certain gestures and expressions. Certain moods, certain weathers, certain times of day and states of light. Certain individual moments that seem to mean so much but that mean in fact so little until the hidden links between them have been found.

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker)
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

I think now that most probably Keith’s words came out of nowhere, that they were spontaneously created in the moment they were uttered. That they were a blind leap of pure fantasy. Or of pure intuition. Or, like so many things, of both.

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker), Keith Hayward
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

She just is his mother, in the same way that Mrs. Sheldon's Mrs. Sheldon, and Barbara Berrill's beneath our notice, and my family’s slightly disgraceful. Everyone knows that these things are so. They don't have to be

explained or justified.

Page Number: 40-41
Explanation and Analysis:

Yes, there’s a sinister unnoticeability about the whole performance, now that we know the truth behind it. There’s something clearly wrong about her, if you really look at her and listen to her as we now do.

Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

I feel more strongly than ever the honor of my association with Keith. His family have taken on the heroic proportions of characters in a legend—noble father and traitorous mother playing out the never-ending conflict between good and evil, between light and dark.

Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

There’s always been something sinister about Mr. Gort’s house and Trewinnick, of course. But there’s something sinister about all these silent houses when you look at them like this. The less you see happening on the outside, the more certain you are that strange things are going on inside…

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker), Mr. Gort
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

“Anyway,” I say, “my father’s a German spy, too.”…
“Well, he is," I say. “He has secret meetings with people who come to the house. They talk in a foreign language together. It's German. I've heard them.”

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker), Stephen’s Father / Mr. Wheatley (speaker), Keith Hayward
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

It's like the War Effort and the perpetual sense of strain it induces, of guilt for not doing enough toward it. The War Effort hangs over us for the Duration, and both the Duration and the long examination board of childhood will last forever.

Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

Even before this there were a lot of things piling up that I couldn’t tell Keith about. Barbara Berrill’s visit. Her stupid stories about his mother and his aunt. Now I’ve been burdened with another secret that I have to keep from him. But how can we possibly proceed if I don't tell him this one?

Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

Not that I ever believed those stories for a moment. Or could have said anything about them to Keith even if I had. It would be telling tales. You can't tell tales.

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker), Keith Hayward
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

We’ve come on a journey from the highest to the lowest—from the silver-framed heroes on the altars in the Haywards' house through the descending social gradations of the Close, from the Berrills and Geests to us, from us to the Pinchers, on down through the squalor of the Cottages and their wretched occupants, and then, reached even lower, to an old derelict taking refuge under a sheet of corrugated iron.

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker), Keith Hayward, Uncle Peter / the Man
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

So far as I can piece it together, as the heir to Stephen’s thoughts, he neither thought she was nor didn’t think she was. Without Keith there to tell him what to think he’d stopped thinking about it all. Most of the time you don't go around thinking that things are so or not so, any more than you go around understanding or not understanding them. You take them for granted.

Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Lamorna. I find the word on my tongue over and over again, saying itself of its own accord. Lamorna is the softness of Barbara Berrill's dress as she leaned across me to look in the trunk. Lamorna is the correct scientific description of the contrast between the bobbly texture of her purse and the smooth shininess of its button. Lamorna is the indoor-firework smell of the match, and its two shining reflections in her eyes. But Lamorna is also the name of the softness in Keith's mother's voice…

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker), Barbara Berrill
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

What exactly was this unthinkable something? Nothing exactly. What's unthinkable can’t in its nature be exactly anything. Its inexactitude is what makes it so overpowering.

Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Whoever and whatever he was or wasn’t, Stephen was still quite clear about one thing: he was a German. There was no way round that.

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker), Uncle Peter / the Man
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Once again I feel the locked box beginning to open and reveal its mysteries. I'm leaving behind the old tunnels and terrors of childhood—and stepping into a new world of even darker tunnels and more elusive terrors.

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker)
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

Now all the mysteries have been resolved, or as resolved as they’re ever likely to be. All that remains is the familiar slight ache in the bones, like an old wound when the weather changes. Heimweh or Fernweh? A longing to be there or a longing to be here, even though I’m here already?

Related Characters: Stephen Wheatley (speaker)
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Spies LitChart as a printable PDF.
Spies PDF

Stephen Wheatley Character Timeline in Spies

The timeline below shows where the character Stephen Wheatley appears in Spies. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
The narrator, Stephen Wheatley, begins the story in the third week of June. It is that time of... (full context)
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
One day Stephen notices the same smell as he is walking his daughter and two granddaughters to the... (full context)
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Suddenly, the word starts to bring up more memories and Stephen recalls specific visions: his friend Keith’s mother laughing, and then weeping; “A shower of sparks... (full context)
Chapter 2
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Stephen arrives at his destination and finds that “everything is as it was…and everything has changed.”... (full context)
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Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
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Stephen says that even the sky, which usually stays unchanged throughout time, is different now. In... (full context)
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
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The second house in the line, No. 2, catches Stephen’s attention in the image of his memory. Semi-attached to the Hardiments’ house and the Pinchers’,... (full context)
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Stephen starts to wonder if his younger self would have seen what he sees now. He... (full context)
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The older Stephen sees his younger self leaving the house, and he describes everything about himself, even his... (full context)
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Stephen imagines himself going through the neighborhood, commenting on the other children of the Close, including... (full context)
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Next the young Stephen passes the mysterious Trewinnick house, where the blackout curtains are always drawn and some mysterious... (full context)
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The young Stephen finally reaches his destination: No. 9, the Haywards’ house. In the present, he examines it... (full context)
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Stephen wonders what the inside of the Haywards’ house looks like now. He describes how it... (full context)
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Stephen expresses how even then he knew how lucky he was to be Keith’s friend. He... (full context)
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For example, Stephen states that it was Keith who discovered that the Trewinnick house was occupied by a... (full context)
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Stephen now imagines the two boys standing back in the hall of the Hayward house, deciding... (full context)
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...the boys could play in Keith’s playroom, which was filled with expensive toys (and which Stephen painstakingly catalogues). Or they could play in the garden (which contains all kind of fantastical... (full context)
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Although all these different pastimes were equally viable options, Stephen states that going to his own house was never a possibility. Unlike Keith, Stephen shared... (full context)
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Stephen then describes Keith’s father, who spent most of his time working around the house and... (full context)
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...except for the occasional “old boy” or “old bean” that he used to address Keith. Stephen notes that Keith’s father did not acknowledge Stephen’s existence and never addressed him. However, Stephen... (full context)
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Stephen was the only person in the Close whom the Haywards let willingly into their home.... (full context)
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Stephen attributes Auntie Dee’s recklessness and untidiness to the absence of her husband Uncle Peter, who... (full context)
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Stephen then thinks about his own family and asks himself if he ever loved them. He... (full context)
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Stephen describes his father’s unkempt appearance, which was as “unsatisfactory” as Stephen himself. He mentions, in... (full context)
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Stephen answers his previous question again, saying that he must have loved his family because it... (full context)
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Stephen then describes how he once went into Keith’s mother’s sitting room and thanked her for... (full context)
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Stephen returns to the subject of the “disconcerting scent.” In the present he is slowly walking... (full context)
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Stephen then returns to the story he began earlier, which takes place at the tea table... (full context)
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Stephen recounts a time when a policeman arrived at the Close to apparently arrest Keith’s mother.... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Resuming the narrative in the flashback, the young Stephen does not say anything at all in response to Keith’s claim, but just stands with... (full context)
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The young Stephen also immediately feels excited because of the new possibilities of engaging in spy-like activities. Then... (full context)
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Stephen would rather have Mrs. Sheldon or Mrs. Stott be a German spy. He even considers... (full context)
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 Stephen and Keith begin spying on Keith’s mother as she takes care of errands and household... (full context)
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Stephen runs home for lunch, thinking about their plans to investigate the sitting room while Keith’s... (full context)
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The Close is empty, since everyone is still having lunch, and Stephen thinks about how unfortunate it will be when Keith’s mother is exposed. When he hears... (full context)
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...find a Friday in January that is empty except for a tiny “x” mark. Although Stephen starts to feel nervous and tries to put the diary back, Keith continues to look... (full context)
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...three exclamation points throughout the year, one of them on a date marked “wedding anniv.” Stephen feels overwhelmed by this discovery, and starts to hypothesize that the x’s symbolize a monthly... (full context)
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
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...curious about what they’re doing. She tells them to go play outside, and the older Stephen reflects that this was another turning point in his story. (full context)
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Stephen and Keith go to their secret hiding spot in the privet shrubs at Braemar (Miss... (full context)
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Stephen makes some suggestions of what to do next—like telling Keith’s father, or the police, or... (full context)
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Keith holds out the bayonet/knife to Stephen, who places his hand on it, and Keith makes Stephen swear not to reveal anything... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Stephen is daydreaming of spying on Keith’s mother when his teacher asks him a question and... (full context)
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Although Stephen is constantly fidgeting, eager to go back to the lookout, Stephen’s mother and Geoff —who... (full context)
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Stephen’s father asks Stephen what he did at school, but instead of mentioning the teasing, Stephen... (full context)
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Stephen’s father then asks if Stephen is getting along better with the other boys—if they’re not... (full context)
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Stephen’s father follows up with more questions about Stephen’s best friends and favorite teacher. Meanwhile, Stephen... (full context)
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
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Close to bedtime, Stephen finds a chance to escape to the lookout, where he runs into Keith’s mother. Both... (full context)
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Stephen and Keith’s serious spying begins the following Saturday. Most of their watch consists of unfruitful... (full context)
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Stephen starts to feel bored and tired of listening to Keith order him around. Stephen playfully... (full context)
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Stephen is just about to leave when they suddenly see Keith’s mother leaving the house to... (full context)
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
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...they lose her after she turns a corner at the end of the Close—“she’s vanished.” Stephen then describes the town’s spatial arrangement. The end of the Close forks into the Avenue... (full context)
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
In the following days, Stephen and Keith try to find the secret passageway taken by Keith’s mother, as they keep... (full context)
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Back in the flashback, Stephen is at the lookout alone and tries to follow Keith’s mother to the Avenue, but... (full context)
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One day, Barbara Berrill comes up to Stephen and Keith while they are in their lookout, and asks them what they are doing.... (full context)
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...being out so long, and the two enter their home. As they are going inside, Stephen notices that Keith’s mother is brushing her hair and slapping her shoulders, as if trying... (full context)
Chapter 5
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
The chapter begins back in the present, when the older Stephen has returned to the Close. He describes how the town had been a newly erected... (full context)
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
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Stephen states that the slime on Keith’s mother’s hands was from the tunnel. She does not... (full context)
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...walking back towards the Close with a letter in her hand. After she has left, Stephen tries to head back, but he finds that Keith has discovered something in the undergrowth.... (full context)
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That night Stephen is haunted by the mystery of the “X”, and he dreams of both his own... (full context)
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Keith never shows up, and instead Stephen is visited by Barbara, who makes fun of the mistake of the “privet” sign. She... (full context)
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Barbara keeps trying to talk to Stephen about Keith, and he keeps trying to ignore her. Then Stephen sees Keith’s mother walking... (full context)
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...follow Keith’s mother.  Barbara speculates that she may be buying items from the black market. Stephen dismisses her guess and is offended to have Keith’s mother’s “high treason” so belittled, but... (full context)
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...Auntie Dee’s house at night and called the police, thinking it was a “Peeping Tom.” Stephen is incredulous at this information, but then thinks of Uncle Peter and feels sure that... (full context)
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Barbara, her face very close to Stephen’s, states that many mothers have boyfriends while their husbands are at war. Then Barbara’s mother... (full context)
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The following day, Stephen is in the lookout alone when Keith’s mother, who is feeding the pigs, speaks to... (full context)
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Keith’s mother gives Stephen two chocolate biscuits and apologizes that Keith cannot play today. She comments on the “privet”... (full context)
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Keith’s mother tells Stephen that she’s glad that Keith has found a friend in him, since “he doesn’t make... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Stephen has trouble falling asleep. His mind is racing, and he goes to the window to... (full context)
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Suddenly, Stephen decides to go to the tunnel at night to check the tin box and prove... (full context)
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Stephen opens the box, and inside feels some clothing. He also feels the presence of another... (full context)
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When he returns to the Close, Stephen finds his parents worried and looking for him out in the night with flashlights. It... (full context)
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Time fast-forwards and Keith is examining the sock. Stephen has told him about the man but didn’t say that he had the opportunity to... (full context)
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Keith declares that they have to go check on the box, and though Stephen tries to dissuade him, he confidently tells his mother that they are going out to... (full context)
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As Stephen starts to head back in shame, he hears footsteps—Keith’s mother is approaching. The two boys... (full context)
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Stephen and Keith walk past the Cottages, where dogs bark and dirty children (who are “plainly... (full context)
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...is the covering to a secret hideout. They believe the tramp is hiding there, so Stephen and Keith start hitting the iron sheet to frighten the tramp and make him come... (full context)
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...in ten minutes.” As Keith and his father enter their house, Keith’s mother disappointedly asks Stephen: “was it you two?” (full context)
Chapter 7
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The chapter returns to the present, with Stephen staring at a tub of geraniums situated at what was once the privet lookout point.... (full context)
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Stephen questions what he had known at that time and what he understands even now, and... (full context)
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Back in the flashback, Stephen states that he stopped thinking, since he didn’t have Keith to decide what to think... (full context)
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Stephen finally gathers up the courage to knock on the Haywards’ door. Keith’s mother opens the... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Stephen runs off, feeling that he must do something to make things right. He knows the... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Stephen now realizes that he is shut off from the well-ordered world of the Haywards forever.... (full context)
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Stephen is in the lookout alone when Barbara joins him again. They see Keith going shopping... (full context)
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Stephen and Barbara continue to watch the Haywards. Keith's mother lingers, contemplating the sky, and then... (full context)
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One day Stephen sees a crowd of children surrounding Auntie Dee’s house, because a policeman is inside talking... (full context)
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...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,... (full context)
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Later Stephen sits in the lookout with Barbara, feeling like a failure. Barbara tells him that it... (full context)
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Barbara asks Stephen if he has ever smoked a cigarette, and he claims that he has, “loads and... (full context)
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Barbara asks Stephen for a match, and then leans over Stephen to examine the locked box that he... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Stephen proclaims that everything has changed once again, as he starts to notice the scent of... (full context)
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Stephen then begins to piece together the puzzle: he thinks Keith’s mother isn’t a spy, but... (full context)
Chapter 9
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The older Stephen is seeing his memory unfold in front of him, as his younger self sits in... (full context)
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...as “he”) does not have a ration book and is really sick. She pleads with Stephen to deliver the basket, but in his mind he’s caught up in the thought that... (full context)
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Keith’s mother cries harder, and Stephen feels awful. Stephen thinks that he has turned Keith’s mother and father against each other,... (full context)
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...sometimes, and how much things have changed from how they once were. She looks at Stephen with a “wan smile” and Stephen feels as if he is leaving his child’s world,... (full context)
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After Keith’s mother leaves, Barbara comes into the lookout, asking what Keith’s mother had said. Stephen tries not to reveal anything, and in turn, Barbara starts mocking him, but also expressing... (full context)
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...medicine for a fever. Barbara then finds a sealed envelope, which she tries to open. Stephen takes it out of her hands, and Barbara leans forward and kisses him. Stephen can’t... (full context)
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At that moment Keith’s father approaches the lookout and asks Stephen to have a word with him. Barbara hurriedly puts the items back in the basket,... (full context)
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In the garage, Keith’s father goes to his workbench and tells Stephen to stop playing silly games. Stephen notes that this conversation must be difficult for Keith’s... (full context)
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...out of her grasp. There is a long and terrifying silence, and finally she tells Stephen to go find Keith and “cheer him up.” Stephen runs out and finds Keith, who... (full context)
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Stephen cries uncontrollably as his parents try to comfort him. They ask him what’s wrong, but... (full context)
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When the morning comes, Stephen finds that none of his problems are gone, but he does realize what he needs... (full context)
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Stephen again passes through the Cottages, with their barking dogs and dirty children. The dogs lunge... (full context)
Chapter 10
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The older Stephen wonders if his younger self had finally understood who it was that called him. He... (full context)
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The man asks for Keith’s mother, but Stephen , who can mostly just shake or nod his head in response, says she can’t... (full context)
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Stephen then tries to leave, but the man asks him to stay. He asks why Keith’s... (full context)
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...thing that keeps him sane now is keeping track of the trains. He also tells Stephen that “It was always her. From the very beginning.” The man then hands Stephen a... (full context)
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Stephen keeps the piece of silk, which is a pale green map of Germany (“his homeland,”... (full context)
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Stephen sees Auntie Dee and Milly leaving the Haywards’ house, with Milly crying loudly. Keith’s mother... (full context)
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After dinner Stephen goes back to the lookout, and he finds Keith waiting for him, the bayonet in... (full context)
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Stephen, ashamed, denies it again, but Keith smiles and pushes the bayonet against Stephen's throat. He... (full context)
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Stephen again considers showing Keith the silk scarf in order to make everything better, but again... (full context)
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Stephen goes home and tries to hide his neck wound, but his parents notice it and... (full context)
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Time skips forward, and Stephen wakes up from a deep sleep. He briefly panics because he does not remember where... (full context)
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Stephen decides that the only safe place to hide the scarf is beyond the tunnel. As... (full context)
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Stephen sees the men searching about with flashlights, and sees a stopped train on the tracks.... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Again, the older Stephen states that “everything in the Close is as it was, and everything has changed.” The... (full context)
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Stephen then describes what happened after that night. Life simply went on; he never played with... (full context)
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Stephen explains that he was reborn as “Stephen” when his parents left Germany in 1935. His... (full context)
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Stephen stayed in Germany, and became a professional translator and translated English maintenance manuals. Then he... (full context)
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Stephen reveals that there were actually two spies in the Close: himself and his father. Stephen’s... (full context)
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Stephen continues to give accounts of what happened to the rest of the children at the... (full context)
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Stephen then thinks about Uncle Peter flying over and bombing Germany, and Stephen’s own aunt being... (full context)