The Go-Between

by

L. P. Hartley

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The Go-Between: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back at the hall, a letter from Leo’s mother awaits him. But much to Leo’s surprise, the letter doesn’t summon him home. She says that, as she’d received to letters from him in the same post, one saying he’s having a great time and wants to stay longer and the other saying he wishes to leave, she thought perhaps he was exaggerating “something a little.”
Due to a quirk in the postal delivery system, Leo’s mother has read both his happy and his sad letters at the same time, with their contradictory requests to stay longer and be called home. Understandably, she thinks Leo’s mind is somewhat muddled.
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Leo’s mother thinks that it seems fair that Leo “run errands and take messages,” as Mrs. Maudsley has hosted him so kindly. She suggests he doesn’t run so fast on his errands so that he doesn’t get “unnecessarily hot.” She acknowledges that Leo said what he was doing seemed “Very Wrong” to him, but she doesn’t understand what could be so wrong in such a church-going, well-to-do family as the Maudsleys. She suggests that he ask Mrs. Maudsley “very nicely” if someone else can take the messages.
Because Leo’s mother doesn’t know the nature of his errands—that they facilitate a secret affair—she assumes that he’s just doing little jobs for Mrs. Maudsley. Leo can’t ask Mrs. Maudsley for someone else to take the messages because that would reveal the affair and create catastrophe. The imagery of heat continues, but Leo’s “heat” is more of a figurative problem than a literal one—he likes the physical heat, but he’s too close to the “sun” of Marian and at great risk of being burned.
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Leo’s mother implores him to be patient and makes the point that the Maudsleys sound like good friends for him to have for the future. She says his “father didn’t care about social life but I think he made a mistake.” She adds that “we can’t be happy all the time” and that perhaps that’s a good thing.
This ramps up the psychological pressure on Leo, as for his mother, him staying now actively represents doing things in a better way than his father. He’s under strain from multiple sources, putting him in a dangerous position.
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The letter from his mother disorientates Leo; he has no idea what to do next. He feels he is the keeper of a “dead secret”—“not dead in that sense, but very much alive and death-dealing and fatal.” He wanders aimlessly around the outhouses.
Leo senses the devastating power of his knowledge, since he knows that the affair is a matter of life and death. His physical wandering about the grounds reflects his disorientated mental state.
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Leo considers it important that, when Marian returns, he avoid being along with her. He feels that against Marian he has no “defences”—whereas Ted is “like a schoolboy”: “ I did not feel…that he had any greater regard for me than one thrusting male has for another.” But Marian is like a “fairy-godmother”—he hadn’t imagined she could turn against him, “but she had.” That said, he knows he will have to see her at some point to give her Ted’s message.
Here, Leo associates Ted with nature and Marian with the supernatural. But this isn’t always the case—earlier he described Ted as casting a spell with his physique. There is a general feeling that Leo’s delicately balanced interior world is being dismantled by the way Marian has treated him.
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Marian and Mrs. Maudsley return. After breakfast on Thursday, Marian takes Leo aside. She asks if Leo missed her, to which he self-consciously replies that he did. She says that he probably thinks she is “a ghastly old governess” but that really, she’s “a good-natured girl.” Leo senses that she is unhappy.
Marian wants to get Leo back on her side and uses her charm to do so. As has been seen a few times in the book, Leo is very keen to prevent unhappiness in Marian.
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Leo asks if Marian had a good time in London; she says that did not. He says he is sorry to hear that, but she replies that he’s “not sorry in the least.” She tells Leo he’s a “hard-hearted little boy,” like all boys are. Leo isn’t sure if she’s serious, but asks if men are hard-hearted too—he can’t imagine Trimingham being so, anyway.
Leo can’t help but seek advice and wisdom from adults, but he still doesn’t understand their subtext when they speak. Marian isn’t being serious about Leo; this is just part of her winning Leo back by gently teasing him. Leo still venerates Trimingham.
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To Marian, all men are hard, like “blocks of granite … or the beds at Brandham.” Leo tells her that he once slept on the ground and that it made his hip sore, and asks whether soldiers have to sleep on the floor. She says she has no doubt Trimingham had to. Leo asks if Ted will have to sleep on the floor, “when he goes to the war.” Marian is shocked to learn that Ted might enlist and is especially angry that it was Trimingham who suggested that he do so.
The image of men on the ground “like blocks of granite” conjures the prospect of death. Trimingham, perhaps quite innocently, hasn’t mentioned anything to Marian about asking Ted to enlist.
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Marian asks whether Trimingham “made” Ted say he would join the forces. Leo says that Ted is “strong” and that he can’t imagine anyone making Ted do anything. Marian counters that “Ted is as weak as water. Hugh’s [Trimingham] far stronger.”
Marian has a unique perspective, as she is the object of affection for both men. Though Ted has demonstrated physical strength throughout, Trimingham’s strength comes from his military past and his quiet obedience to social norms. Perhaps this is what lends him the authority over Ted that Marian perceives.
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Marian asks whether Trimingham said why he wanted Ted to enlist. Leo says that it’s because Ted is a “good shot,” and that as a “single man with no ties” he would make a first-rate officer. She insists she’ll not let Trimingham make Ted join up: “I’ll soon put a stop to it! I’ll make Ted put a stop to it! I tell you, Ted’s a dangerous man when his blood’s up.” She says she’ll tell Trimingham she won’t marry him if Ted goes to the war.
Marian’s response raises the impending sense of violence in the book. Of course, Ted is only pretending to be a “single man”; actually he is deeply in love with Marian, but there’s no way he could have told this to Trimingham. Marian wants to take matters into her own hands, making her potentially volatile.
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Leo appeals to Marian not to create conflict between Trimingham and Ted. He tells her that Trimingham doesn’t know about her messages with Ted, and that Trimingham is sincere in his reasons for wanting Ted to go. Marian says doubtfully that Leo may be right, but that it’s “silly” of Ted to agree.
Leo is afraid that there will be a duel between Ted and Trimingham and he will lose one of his new role models. Even Marian doesn’t know how much Trimingham knows of the affair, making it hard for the reader to decide on the motives for Trimingham’s actions.
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Leo asks why Marian doesn’t just marry Ted. Marian tearfully exclaims that marrying Ted would be impossible, and that she must marry Trimingham. When Marian cries, she no longer seems like a deceiver who has abused Leo’s trust and manipulated him, but once again like “Marian of the Zodiac, Marian whom I loved.”
Marian’s sorrow restores her innocence, making her Leo’s Virgin sign again despite what he knows. Marian feels she must marry Trimingham out of duty, not love. Duty is a strong force in her upper-class family, and in a very real way the continued social “success” of the Maudsleys depends on her marrying Trimingham.
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Related Quotes
Through her sobs, Marian asks if Leo went down to the farm while she was away. Leo says that he did speak with Ted, and that Ted had said that Marian should meet him at six o’clock on Friday. Marian asks if Leo is sure it’s six and not half past; he says he is. Marian thanks Leo, calling him a “friend in a thousand.” Leo has forgotten that he will still be at Brandham Hall on Friday, and that six o’ clock will be the time of his party. 
Leo, once again playing the role of editor rather than mere messenger, changes the proposed meeting time of Ted’s message. That’s why Marian is confused that he says six o’clock—not the time she usually meets Ted. Leo thinks that somehow this will be for everyone’s good, but it’s not yet clear exactly what his reasoning is.
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