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.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Germs appears in Spies. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...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)
...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)