The Go-Between


L. P. Hartley

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Themes and Colors
Social Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Trauma Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
Fate, Myth, and Magic Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Marriage Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Go-Between, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Social Class and Hierarchy

The Go-Between is fundamentally a drama of social hierarchy. The story is set in late-Victorian/Edwardian Britain around the turn of the 20th century, a time when class dominated society, and primarily explores these ideas in two related story lines: through its primary character, Leo, who narrates the book retrospectively about his experiences when he, a middle class boy, was invited to spend the summer at the high class estate of has schoolmate Marcus’s…

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Coming of Age and Trauma

The Go-Between is a coming of age story with a twist. The novel has the basic structure of a bildungsroman—a novel about a youth growing up. However, as the adult Leo narrates his story as about his childhood experiences at Brandham Hall, it’s clear from his description of himself as a man who has spent his life surrounded by “facts”—as opposed to feelings—that Leo has missed out on sexual and emotional maturity altogether, and that…

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While the attention that Marian gives the young Leo begins what he calls his “spiritual transformation,” Leo’s interactions with the men in the story are equally important in his attempts to figure what coming of age might actually mean for him. His father is no longer alive, and his experiences as Brandham Hall present him with different ideals of masculinity through the rough, unrefined physicality of Ted and the restrained status and manners of Trimingham

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Fate, Myth, and Magic

The Go-Between is full of semi-supernatural elements, from Leo’s devotion to the zodiac, to the spells that he casts, to the more general constant sense that things are fated to go wrong. Hartley never takes an explicit stance on these elements: through the novel they simultaneously seem to be, on the one hand, real and powerful, and on the other just the delusions of a twelve-year-old boy. In treating these supernatural elements in this…

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Love, Sex, and Marriage

Through the various relationships that it portrays, The Go-Between explores the nature of romantic human relationships with the larger social world. Through the specific affair between Marian and Ted, the novel suggests that passionate romantic love is too strong to be constrained by social conventions. Through the devastating end to that relationship, however, the novel also makes clear that those same social conventions can’t be held at bay for long, even by love. More…

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