The Go-Between

by

L. P. Hartley

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The Go-Between: Chapter 9  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Over the next few days, Leo continues carrying messages between Marian and Ted: “three notes from her, one note and two verbal messages from him.” Ted’s verbal messages were “tell her it’s alright” the first time, and “tell her it’s no go” the second. It’s easy for Leo to find Ted: he’s usually working on the harvest fields.
Leo remains oblivious to the nature of Marian and Ted’s communications. The pattern of behavior starts to become normalized, and Leo is now instrumental in the organization of the lovers’ meetings.
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On one of the message deliveries, Leo sees Ted aiming his gun to kill any rabbits that come out of the rushes as they’re cut. When Leo gives him the envelope, Ted’s bloody hands smear the letter as he reads it. He’s too engrossed in the letter to notice he’s making it bloodied. Each time Leo visits Ted, he enjoys sliding down the straw-stack.
This is another hint that there may be violence to come. Ted is too excited by Marian’s letter to keep decorum and clean off the blood before reading it. Leo enjoys going to Ted’s because it gives him a break from his new identity in which he can briefly enjoy behaving like a boy again.
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Related Quotes
Leo takes his duties as Mercury—the go-between—“very seriously.” Marian always seems to be more urgent with the letters than when dealing with anyone else. Leo feels that “to be of service to her was infinitely sweet to me, nor did I look beyond it.”
Leo’s commitment to taking the messages means he is a highly effective go-between. At this moment, it’s still based on his devotion to Marian.
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Leo wonders what the meaning of Ted and Marian’s secret communication might be. He has a few theories, none of which completely satisfy him. Perhaps, he reasons, the envelopes contain money gifted from Marian to Ted to help him with his “business.” Maybe they’re comparing notes about the “temperature,” he wonders. Leo’s favorite theory—the most “sensational”—is that Ted is in trouble with the police and Marian is trying to help him, but even that theory doesn’t quite ring true.
Leo suspects that “business” might be code for something else. But living in his pre-sexual (and strictly hierarchical) world, he doesn’t yet suspect there might anything romantic between Marian and Ted. He naively thinks they might be communicating about temperature—though it’s true that their relationship is becoming more heated. Leo also wonders if Ted might be a dangerous man, but this doesn’t sit right with Ted’s treatment of him so far.
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Leo is “half ashamed” of his urge to know the nature of Ted and Marian’s relationship, but is committed to his “privilege in being associated with the movement of the heavenly bodies.”
Leo is torn between his growing desire to know what’s going on and his duty as “Mercury.” The idea of shame suggests an impending loss of innocence.
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On Friday, Marcus comes downstairs for the first time since his sickness. It appears he will be well enough for the cricket match. Leo is glad his friend is starting to feel better, but realizes that if Marcus is around it will be impossible for Leo to take any secret messages between Ted and Marian. Leo feels he could tell his friend “many things but not my fantasy of myself as Robin Hood and his sister as Maid Marian.”
This puts Leo in a double-bind; he knows Marcus is too savvy to be deceived about Leo’s constant trips between Ted and Marian. This distances Leo from Marcus, increasing the psychological pressure on Leo to maintain secrecy.
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Leo doesn’t like the idea of lying to Marcus about the letters, feeling it goes against the schoolboys’ “no-sneaking tradition”. Besides, even if he lied, Marcus’s shrewdness would quickly discover the truth. On the other hand, Leo is “still in love with the adventure” of taking the letters and fears that without his role as messenger he will have to reckon with an “emotional impoverishment.”
Leo is starting to feel the psychological strain: he’s both constrained by a code of secrecy and a code against lying. He can’t stick to them both, and fears what will happen to his new identity if he can no longer be “messenger of the gods.”
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After breakfast, Leo starts to head off with Marcus, both hopeful and fearful that Marian will not stop him to give him a letter. But she calls out for him, and Leo tells Marcus to wait for him while he goes off with Marian for a moment.
Marian clearly expects Leo to keep the secret from Marcus as well. Her desire for Ted increases the risks she is willing to take. Leo, still not aware of the affair, remains obedient.
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Leo is about to tell Marian about the newfound difficulty he foresees in taking the letters when Trimingham appears in the room. “Like lightning” Marian thrusts the letter in Leo’s pocket before Trimingham can see.
It’s not certain whether Trimingham is suspicious here or if it’s just coincidence, but it certainly demonstrates the increasing dangers involved in the secret communication. The lightning metaphor suggests that what’s contained in the letter is going to have a big impact.
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Leo goes back to Marcus and tells him he wants to go and slide on the straw-stack. Marcus is bored by this idea and declines to go with Leo. Instead, he says, he will kill time by sitting at “yonder window and watch [the adults] spooning.” They both laugh at the thought of spooning, before Leo says seriously that he’s sure Marian doesn’t spoon: “she’s got too much sense.” Marcus is unconvinced, and says that rumor has it that she even spoons with Leo—at this, the two boys wrestle before Marcus cries, “Pax!”
Spooning is a euphemism for sex, but neither Marcus nor Leo really knows what it is. Marcus obviously doesn’t mean he’s going to watch the adults having sex, but likewise Leo’s vague sense of the word “spooning” as sexual activity means he doesn’t like the idea of Marian—the Virgin of his Zodiac—engaging in it. “Pax” is the Latin word for peace.
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Leo heads towards the farm. Fingering the envelope in his pocket, he realizes that it is unsealed. At Leo’s school, the rules (between schoolboys) about reading other people’s letters are that it’s okay to do so if they’ve been left lying about. Often notes get passed around at school, and Leo frequently reads the ones that aren’t sealed.
Leo tries to reconcile his desire to know about the letters with his various moral codes. He’s trying to make it ethically okay for him to look at the letter as, unlike the previous letters, this one is unsealed.
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Leo thinks it’s fair that he can read Marian’s letter, but he hesitates. He knows she probably meant to seal it, but the fact is that she hadn’t. “If Marian had made a slip, well, then, she must pay for it,” he thinks to himself. “That was only logical.” Leo, though, is very divided about whether to read the letter.
Leo weighs what he thinks Marian wants with the school code that reading something unsealed is perfectly reasonable. Out of loyalty to her—and perhaps fear of the contents—he’s psychologically divided over what to do.
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Leo decides that, as this might be the last letter he can take because of Marcus’s return, it’s okay for him to read it. Furthermore, if the letter reveals a matter of “life and death,” he resolves that he will find a way to continue taking their letters. He doesn’t take the letter out of the envelope but reads the words that he can see by looking inside it. They read “Darling, Darling, darling, same place, same time, this evening. But take care not to—.” The rest of the message is hidden by the envelope.
Leo justifies reading the letter on two grounds: one, that it’s probably the last and so not too big a deal; two, that if the matter truly is “life and death,” it’s his duty as the go-between to find a way to keep the communication channels open. He only reads a part of the letter, but those few words show the intensity and urgency of Marian and Ted’s relationship.
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