Spies

by

Michael Frayn

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The Bayonet Symbol Analysis

The Bayonet Symbol Icon

A bayonet is a bladed weapon that can be attached to a firearm, like a rifle. Keith’s father used one in World War I, and he carries it with him when he goes off to the Home Guard on weekends. Keith claims that his father killed five Germans with the bayonet, but it’s more likely that he actually killed them with his pistol. In their privet hideout, then, Stephen and Keith pretend that they have a similar bayonet. In reality it is a carving knife without a handle, found in the rubble of Miss Durrant’s bombed house, but Keith sharpens it and the boys imagine it as a bayonet to the point that to them, it truly is a bayonet. They then swear an oath of secrecy on the bayonet when they start spying on Keith’s mother, and the object seems to give the oath great weight through both its importance and its inherent danger (as suggested by the “cut my throat and hope to die” part of the oath).

As Keith’s father’s weapon and the boys’ imagined treasure, the bayonet initially seems to represent bravery, military skill, and the nationalistic “glories” of war. Yet its role as an object of violence—Keith’s father uses his bayonet to torture his wife, and Keith in turn uses the boys’ “bayonet” to torture Stephen—undercuts these ideas, and shows how war is ultimately cruel, destructive, and anything but glorious. The bayonet thus represents the harsh realities of war being brought into the intimacy of the neighborhood, home, and family.

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The Bayonet Symbol Timeline in Spies

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bayonet appears in Spies. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
...in the Great War for killing five Germans. Keith said he killed them with his bayonet, though Stephen privately wonders how Keith’s father fixed the bayonet to his revolver. Keith’s father... (full context)
Chapter 3
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...house. From the trunk Keith then takes the boys’ most secret and prized possession: “the bayonet with which his father killed the five Germans.” Stephen then clarifies this—it’s not actually the... (full context)
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Keith holds out the bayonet/knife to Stephen, who places his hand on it, and Keith makes Stephen swear not to... (full context)
Chapter 7
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
...Dee’s—and smiles a strange smile. Then he goes into the garage and starts sharpening his bayonet. (full context)
Chapter 8
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Chapter 9
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...a value for x.” Barbara then sits on top of Stephen and reaches for the bayonet. She uses it to slit the letter open, despite Stephen’s desperate protests. (full context)
Chapter 10
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...dinner Stephen goes back to the lookout, and he finds Keith waiting for him, the bayonet in his hand. Stephen considers showing Keith the piece of silk as a way of... (full context)
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Stephen, ashamed, denies it again, but Keith smiles and pushes the bayonet against Stephen's throat. He keeps pushing it harder until it draws blood, and Stephen can... (full context)
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
...order to make everything better, but again he decides he cannot. Finally Keith removes the bayonet, and coldly mocks Stephen before turning to go. Stephen realizes that Keith “lost his nerve... (full context)