Spies

by

Michael Frayn

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The Letter “X” Symbol Analysis

The Letter “X” Symbol Icon

During their investigation of Keith’s mother’s desk, Stephen and Keith examine her diary and find tiny X marks on specific days in her calendar. They find a pattern in the “X’s,” which occur once a month and are sometimes “crossed out and entered a day or two earlier or later.” The boys discover that the “X’s” coincide with the new moon and they assume it as a mark for her secret meetings, though the reader may comically realize that the “X’s” probably record her menstrual cycles. Later in the novel, the boys also find a package of cigarettes marked with an “X” in a tin box that further kindles their imaginations. Therefore, the letter “X” symbolizes the unknown and the flexibility with which it allows anyone to attach varied meanings to it. Throughout the novel, Stephen obsesses over the meaning of the X’s, and he considers their wide potential to symbolize a kiss, a mathematical variable, Auntie Dee’s hypothetical boyfriend, and eventually, the mysterious man that Keith’s mother is taking care of and keeping in hiding. In essence, “X” speaks to the novel’s larger theme of imagination through the infinite possibilities of meanings that it can harbor.

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The Letter “X” Symbol Timeline in Spies

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Letter “X” appears in Spies. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Secrecy Theme Icon
...specific occasions, like Milly’s birthday. Then they find a Friday in January that is empty except for a tiny “x” mark. Although Stephen starts to feel nervous and tries to put... (full context)
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Next Keith finds an exclamation point on a Saturday in February. As the two continue skimming,... (full context)
Chapter 4
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...was “revising” in various school subjects. Then Stephen’s father asks him to solve the equation 7x^2 = 63, but Stephen is distracted by the moon outside, thinking of Keith’s mother’s “x”... (full context)
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...a spy, then so can his father. Feeling frustrated, he thinks that Keith’s mother’s “stupid” x-marks in her diary probably don’t mean anything at all. (full context)
Chapter 5
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...but he finds that Keith has discovered something in the undergrowth. It’s a large tin box, about four feet long. The top of the box is inscribed: “Gamages of Holborn. The... (full context)
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
That night Stephen is haunted by the mystery of the “X”, and he dreams of both his own mother and Keith’s mother. The next day Stephen... (full context)
Chapter 6
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...underneath the light of the full moon (noting that the new moon, when Keith’s mother’s “x” meeting will be, is thus not far away). He feels conflicted, since he has all... (full context)
Class Difference and Social Status Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
...a member of an alien race here, but realizes that these children probably know about “x” and have seen him. Keith walks past with a look of superiority. A man emerges... (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
...really know what spies do other than act suspiciously). He then shifts his focus onto “x” from the Barns. He assumes that the man is German, but simultaneously believes he is... (full context)
Chapter 8
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
Memory and the Self Theme Icon
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
War, Paranoia, and Belonging Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
...about the germs from her mouth, and he suddenly thinks “I’ve found a value for x.” Barbara then sits on top of Stephen and reaches for the bayonet. She uses it... (full context)