Spies

by

Michael Frayn

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Spies can help.
Germs Symbol Icon

Stephen exhibits what is almost an obsession (perhaps connected to OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) against getting germs on himself. He finds “germs” on a variety of objects: the slime from the tunnel, the children from the Cottages, and the bayonet that Keith pushes into his throat. In general, germs represent anything that is undesirable. First and foremost, Stephen associates them with dirtiness and messiness and uses them to describe the state of his room, which is “a hopeless tangle of string and plasticine and electric cord and forgotten socks and dust, of old cardboard boxes of moldering butterflies and broken birds’ eggs left over from abandoned projects in the past.” Thus, germs provide one way in which Stephen distinguishes his poorer family from Keith’s more affluent and “impeccable” one. Furthermore, Stephen connects the word “germs” with “Germans.” Thus, they also symbolize what Stephen sees as the characteristic quality of Germans, who are “evil and insidious,” and reveal the general nationalistic hatred of Germans in the England of the novel.

Get the entire Spies LitChart as a printable PDF.
Spies PDF

Germs Symbol Timeline in Spies

The timeline below shows where the symbol Germs appears in Spies. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...tries to ignore these words, but he feels them take root in him like insidious “germs.” (full context)
Chapter 6
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...the house. Everything is still and dark and frightening. Stephen goes through the tunnel, getting germs on his hands from the slime, and finally makes it into the open, through the... (full context)
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
...walk past the Cottages, where dogs bark and dirty children (who are “plainly laden with germs”) stare at them. Stephen feels like a member of an alien race here, but realizes... (full context)
Chapter 7
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
...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... (full context)
Chapter 8
Secrecy Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...her hands, and Barbara leans forward and kisses him. Stephen can’t help thinking about the germs from her mouth, and he suddenly thinks “I’ve found a value for x.” Barbara then... (full context)
Chapter 10
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...are. Stephen still can’t help thinking of the man as being German (and giving off germs), even though the man clearly knows Stephen and the other people of the Close. (full context)
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...throat. He keeps pushing it harder until it draws blood, and Stephen can feel the “germs” on the blade entering his body. Stephen starts to cry and bleeds more, and he... (full context)