The Go-Between

by

L. P. Hartley

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Go-Between can help.

The Go-Between: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Leo spends time with Marcus, who speaks to Leo in affected French. This annoys Leo, because Marcus’s language skills are superior. Leo suspects Marcus of trying to show off because he is jealous of Leo’s cricket match and singing successes. Leo suggests they visit the outhouses and look at the deadly nightshade.
Marcus doesn’t like Leo’s newfound status and tries to belittle him by speaking in French. Leo wants to take him to the deadly nightshade because he hopes it will serve as a reminder to Marcus of Leo’s supposed supernatural powers.
Themes
Coming of Age and Trauma Theme Icon
On their way, the boys spot a footprint in the path. Marcus tells Leo ironically that he will tell Mrs. Maudsley that they have discovered the footprint of Man Friday (from the book Robinson Crusoe). Marcus tells Leo, still in French, that is mother is a very nervous character, even a little bit hysterical. He informs Leo that she is worried that Marian will not stick to her engagement to Trimingham.
Here the reader learns that Mrs. Maudsley’s suspicions of Marian are causing her considerable mental strain. She wants Marian to follow the plan and marry the man she’s supposed to, but she knows Marian has other ideas. This would be potentially catastrophic, as Trimingham has power over the whole estate.
Themes
Social Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Leo asks why Marian has to go to London. Marcus tells him that she needs to buy new clothes for the ball, and then lets Leo in on a secret: Marian is going to buy Leo a special present for his birthday. After some horsing around, Marcus tells him that the present is a bicycle. To Leo, a bicycle is the thing he wants “most in the world,” which will open “the gates of heaven.”
Learning of the gift to come, Leo slips back into his favored way of seeing the world—as a kind of sublime heaven. Leo is a very sensitive figure, but a bicycle is the kind of gift that his mother couldn’t afford. That’s why it excites him so much.
Themes
Coming of Age and Trauma Theme Icon
Marcus tells Leo that the bicycle is a Humber—a much sought-after brand. He also says that the bike is bright green. Marcus asks Leo if he knows why the bike is going to be green. Marcus says, “you are green yourself … It is your true colour, Marian said so.” He dances around Leo, chanting “green, green, green.”
It dawns on Leo that green doesn’t necessarily symbolize the heroic Robin Hood—it can also imply youthful naiveté and lack of experience. Marcus scents the weakness in Leo and teases him relentlessly, happy to bring him down to earth.
Themes
Coming of Age and Trauma Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire The Go-Between LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Go-Between PDF
Leo is suddenly mortified to be thought of as “green”—he sees it as “a subtle insult, meant to make me look a fool.” He feels taken advantage of and seeks some kind of revenge. He asks Marcus if he knows where Marian is at that moment (she is supposed to be at her grandmother’s). He doesn’t, but Leo says he does (in fact he isn’t sure, but guesses that she is with Ted).
Leo’s embarrassment is intensified by his high degree of self-awareness. This is the first time that he acts spitefully, using his knowledge of Marian’s deceit to demonstrate his superiority over Marcus.
Themes
Coming of Age and Trauma Theme Icon
Leo takes Marcus to the outhouse with the nightshade. The bush has grown so much that it now reaches beyond the confines of the building. They hear the sound of voices, one of which Leo silently acknowledges to be Ted’s. The voice has “an hypnotic quality” that, to Leo, seems to both want something and have the assurance that it will get it.
Leo and Marcus have stumbled on one of Marian and Ted’s meetings. The voice they hear is the sound of intimacy, likely to be Ted’s as he seduces Marian. It is a voyeuristic moment in which Marcus and Leo are privy to something truly private—but Marcus, of course, doesn’t know (or really care) what.
Themes
Fate, Myth, and Magic Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
Marcus thinks the voice is that of “a loony talking to himself.” Then they hear a second voice and suspect that inside the outhouse there is a couple “spooning.” Marcus wants to go and see, but Leo is terrified at being discovered, and cleverly tells Marcus, in French, that it would be too boring. He heads back on the path, and Marcus follows.
Marcus is slightly interested in discovering who the voices belong to, but Leo is suddenly remorseful and scared of the consequences. His claim that he’s bored is clever, because it plays on Marcus’ boyish sensibilities.
Themes
Coming of Age and Trauma Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
On the way home, Leo asks Marcus how long engagements go on, and whether they ever break off. Marcus says they do sometimes, and that that is what’s worrying Mrs. Maudsley—but Marian would never be “so folle” (foolish) to leave Trimingham.
Leo is subtly trying to figure out what course events will take. Though he admits that engagements do break off, Marcus is convinced that the risk of losing social status will prevent Marian from not marrying Trimingham.
Themes
Social Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
The boys return to the house. Leo notices that his letter asking to be sent home has not yet been taken for the post. He debates with himself whether to remove the letter—that way he would still get the bicycle. He decides to leave it for the post and returns to his room upstairs.
The bicycle acts a temptation to Leo, putting him in two minds as to whether to leave or not. On balance, he still thinks it’s best if he leaves and that the affair comes to an end.
Themes
Coming of Age and Trauma Theme Icon