The Go-Between

by

L. P. Hartley

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The Go-Between: Chapter 7  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Today’s reading of the thermometer stands at eighty-four degrees. Leo feels it “could do better”; he’s now “in love with the heat” and “I felt for it what the convert feels for his new religion.” Leo feels, too, that the “climate of his emotions has undergone a change.” He now feels that he belongs to “The Zodiac, not to Southdown School,” which he credits to the company he is keeping. In order to fit in with this new “reality,” he believes his “emotions and behavior … must illustrate this change.”
Leo believes he is growing beyond the boy that he was at school, as he is now understanding the world according to his zodiac. The change in the weather reflects his change in character. Because he actively wants his identity to change, he also wants it grow hotter and hotter. The heat has a sensuous allure that fits in with his awakening perception of his own appearance and, more generally, human physicality.
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Marcus isn’t around, and neither are any of the adults (“the companions of the Zodiac”). Left to his own devices, Leo decides to take the path that heads towards the bathing-place. He arrives at the water-meadow where the previous swimming expedition had been. It now seems a lot drier than before, and there’s nobody around. He takes another path through the rushes and finds himself in a cornfield. The swathes of corn have been recently reaped; those still lying on the ground look different to the ones near his home, confirming in him the “sense of being abroad.”
Leo’s new confidence makes him want to explore the estate. The corn on the ground indicates that Ted has recently worked the field, but there’s also a certain violence to the beheaded stalks lying on the ground. There is a strong metaphorical connection between reaping and death, e.g. the grim reaper, subtly hinting that there may be a death to come. Leo’s feeling of being abroad ties into the idea of him being a foreigner—an outsider exploring a new world.
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Eventually finding Ted’s farm, Leo sees a huge stack of straw with a ladder running up it. He half wants to climb it and slide down, because that’s what schoolboys would do and he “could not help acting as if the eyes of the whole school were on” him.
Leo’s developing self-awareness means he is divided in his desire to climb the straw stack. He’s a young boy, so it sounds like a fun idea—but the new identity he is fashioning for himself, he feels, is more grown-up, and this isn’t the kind of thing he associates grown-ups with.
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Leo slides down the stack, feeling the “wild rush through the air, so near to flying.” But on the way down his knee hits something hard: a chopping-block. The blood flows from the gash, and Leo is in considerable pain.
Leo likes the physical sensation of going down the stack, but is naïve to think there won’t be any dangers. The early appearance of blood in the story again hints at impending tragedy.
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Ted suddenly emerges from across the farmyard. He is furious at the sight of an intruder on his farm. Leo frantically tells Ted that they have met before, at the bathing-place. With that knowledge, Ted’s attitude changes instantly from anger to respect: “Then you are from the hall?” he asks.
Ted’s natural instinct is to protect his territory. However, he quickly changes his attitude when he realizes that Leo is technically a guest of his employers. Ted didn’t notice Leo at the bathing-place, but Ted’s physical appearance made sure that Leo saw him.
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Ted tells Leo that he had better take care of his wound for him and helps Leo toward the farmhouse. Ted tells Leo that it was lucky his accident happened on Sunday, otherwise he wouldn’t have been near enough to hear Leo’s pained shout when he fell. Leo is upset to know that he shouted, but Ted compliments him, noting that “some lads would have cried.”
Ted’s tender instinct kicks in and he takes Leo in to look after him. He compliments Leo in order to make him feel better, and Leo likes the idea of being thought of as brave. This sets up the initial relationship between Ted and Leo as similar to a father and son.
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Ted asks Leo not to mind if he spoke to him a “bit hasty.” Leo thinks it seems “right, natural and proper” that Ted should change his tone when realizing that Leo is from the Hall. Entering the house, Ted excuses its plainness, saying he’s too busy to make it anything fancy: “I’m not what you call a gentleman farmer, I’m a working one.”
Ted is class-conscious too, apologizing to Leo for his actions. Leo’s new identity is fundamentally dependent on being a guest at Brandham Hall, and accordingly he displays the influence of its class snobbery. Ted, too, implies that his type of farming—the working type—is the proper one.
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Ted cleans up Leo’s knee, telling him he’s lucky the blood didn’t go on his nice green suit. Leo is hugely relieved and tells Ted that Marian gave him the suit. Ted ties a handkerchief to Leo’s knee and tells him he can keep it.
If the blood had gone on Leo’s suit, this could have foretold a potential loss of innocence. As it is, Leo is glad that Marian will not be angry with him for spoiling the suit and will remain in her favor. But telling Ted that means that Ted is suddenly aware that Leo has access to Marian.
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Feeling that he owes something to Ted for his assistance, Leo asks whether there is anything he can do for him. Leo expects him to say no, but Ted asks Leo whether he could take a message for him, and whether he could wait a minute or two. Leo says he doesn’t need to leave for fifteen minutes or so to get back for tea.
Leo feels indebted to Ted, but is also intrigued by him. So far, Ted has taken good care of him. Ted realizes the opportunity for communication with Marian that Leo represents, and so begins Leo’s role as their “go-between.”
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Ted takes Leo to see the horses, introducing each one to him. He stops to give Boxer, the grey horse, a kiss on the nose. The horse shows “its appreciation by dilating its nostrils and breathing hard through them.” Leo asks the name of another horse, which Ted replies is “Wild Oats.” They grin at one another because of the name, though Leo is not sure why it is amusing.
Ted has an instinctive relationship with nature that is sensitive and physical. The name “Wild Oats” is Hartley’s nod to the phrase “to sow wild oats,” which is an old euphemistic way of saying someone is sexually promiscuous. Of course, Leo doesn’t know anything about that yet, but his self-conscious awareness of how he comes across makes him grin anyway.
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Back in the house, Ted asks Leo how old he is. Leo informs Ted that his thirteenth birthday is at the end of the month. Ted wonders whether he can trust Leo, to which Leo insists that he can. He cites his school-report, which calls him a “trustworthy boy.” Ted asks if Leo can keep a secret, which Leo thinks is a silly question, as secrecy is a big part of a schoolboy’s life.
Ted is fully aware of the dangers of his and Marian’s secret being discovered; that’s why he quizzes Leo on his trustworthiness. Leo doesn’t really expect to have to keep any dangerous secrets, which is why he naively presents his school life as evidence of his ability to keep quiet.
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Ted asks Leo whether he is friendly with Marian, and if he is often alone with her. He then asks Leo whether he is ever close enough to Marian to give her something. As Leo says yes, Ted tells him to wait a moment while he writes a letter for Leo to give to Marian. Ted describes his relationship with Marian as “business.”
Ted echoes Marian’s code word for their affair: “business.” They both think, correctly, that business is uninteresting to children and therefore a safe description. Even though he is vital to Ted and Marian, Leo is misled by both of them from their first meetings.
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Ted writes the letter but tells Leo not to give it to Marian unless he is alone with her. Holding the letter like “a lion guarding something with its paw,” he makes Leo once more promise he will guard it carefully. Leo says he will “defend it with my life.”
Ted is genuinely leonine, unlike Leo who is only like a lion in name. By saying he’ll defend the letter with this life, Leo places himself under increasing psychological pressure. As the reader knows from the prologue, Leo did, in a way, pay for the events of Brandham Hall with his life.
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Leo realizes that it’s time for him to return to the hall. He puts the letter in one of his pockets and Ted shakes his hand, calling him a “good boy.” Leo asks if he can return to the farm to slide down the straw-stack again, and Ted says he will take special care of it for that purpose. Leo leaves the farm, waving to Ted as he goes.
Leo’s first meeting with Ted ends on a high, with the promises of unlimited access to the straw stack. Ted both treats Leo like an adult by shaking his hand, and as a kid by calling him a “good boy.” This is a fair reflection of Leo’s state of mind, caught between boyhood and the adult world.
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When Leo returns to Brandham Hall, he informs the others of his accident and of Ted’s kindness in bandaging his knee. Mr. Maudsley remarks that he has heard that Ted is a “good-looking chap,” and Trimingham states that he needs to have word with Ted. Marian sits “hawk-like,” ignoring the discussion of Ted. Suddenly she gets up and tells Leo she will dress the knee for him.
Marian is careful not to show any clues that she is interested in Ted. Mr. Maudsley’s remark is ironic, given that he can’t possibly be aware of any attraction between Ted and his daughter.
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The two of them go to the bathroom. As Marian washes his knee, she asks Leo whether the handkerchief on it is Ted’s. Leo says yes, and offers to throw it on the rubbish-heap, but she insists on washing it out. Leo gives Marian the letter, which she quickly grabs out of his hand. She tells Leo not to talk to anyone about the letter, not even Marcus. If he were to, she says tearfully, it would “get us all into the most frightful trouble.”
Marian ramps up the psychological pressure on Leo to keep the lovers’ secret. The fact she keeps the bloodied handkerchief shows the strength of her feelings towards Ted. Once again, because of the reader’s foreknowledge based on the prologue, the tension in the story isn’t generated by whether or not there will be “frightful trouble”—but by when the trouble will come, what form it’s going to take, and what its consequences will be.
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