The short story ”The Go-Between” is written by Ali Smith in 2009, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. The declaration consists of thirty rights, which symbolise all the rights we, as human beings, should be obligated to have. Smith has found her inspiration in Article 13, the right to freedom of movement.
The story takes place in Morocco in North Africa, and partly in Europe. Throughout the story, we follow a 33-year-old man – who is the protagonist. We never hear the name of this man, but he speaks of himself as “Professor me”. Our main character is a so-called “border crosser” – he helps refugees cross the border between Morocco and Spain – and he is also a “messenger” between the refugees in Morocco and the French Doctors in Spain – you could call him the “go-between”.
He helps the French doctors heal all the wounded people; a man whose legs had been broken under a train, a woman who had been raped and a little boy who was dying – all mentioned to make the reader sympathize even more for these people. He is a former microbiologist and has worked in a university – this shows that he has gained a lot of knowledge and is indeed a clever man. His education is what has enabled him to get help to those who need it once they cross the border, by being able to speak the language of the French doctor, who he says can be Italian, Spanish, French, English; he says “I speak these and also some others”. (p. 2, l. 32) He describes his physical self with the following characteristics “I’m a small, slight man.
I’m not a big man. I’m lean and slight”. (p. 4, l. 120) I think he is describing his physical self in this way because it humanizes him. The reader may begin to think that he is some kind of super hero, helping all of these refugees cross- but he is just a normal person, doing what he can to help. The 33-year-old man is definitely a very “Determined Professor Me”, when it comes to helping people across or under the border – as he is willing to go as far as losing the top of his ear as well as his 3rd finger. Despite the fact that it is dangerous to cross the border, our main character jokes about it; “I lost the top part of my ear on the fence. The top part of my ear is in Europe”. (p. 1, l. 3) This makes him seem quite like The Joker, but despite his jokes, he is actually quite scared of losing more body parts, which is shown in the nightmares he gets, when he sleeps.
It is very obvious that the story is meant to show how horrible refugees used to be treated. If we read between the lines, we can tell that the main character has had a rough past. As a “Go-between”, not only has he seen, but also experienced horrible thing. “They slashed the tents so they were useless when it rained. They burned the blankets (…) they took all the food. They collected up some of the people from the camp when they went into the bush to get food, and drove them to the desert in a truck, and left them there.” (p. 2, l. 54 – 58) I believe this is one of the reasons why the main character is so passionate about helping people – he wants to stand up against the police, and this is his way of doing so – regardless to his own feelings about Europe of course.
Despite his hate towards the police, he still dreams about Europe – about “walking down the big streets of Madrid with their fine stately buildings”. (p. 4, l. 112) Not only in this section, but also throughout the whole story, the main character shares his passion and confusion for Europe. “You see those lights across the bay? That’s Europe! You see that fence? The other side of it is Europe.”. (p. 1, l. 2) For him, Europe is a symbol of freedom, hope, greatness and possibilities. And yet, he would still like to back to where he came from, but he can’t. “My blindness is for what’s behind me, I would like to go back.
I want to go back. But I have to go forward. I can’t go back. Back’s not possible for me.” (p. 3, l. 74 – 76) – perhaps going back isn’t possible for him anymore, because he has nothing to go back to. Nothing except a shirt, the Cameroon team colors! It seems like the fence – and helping refugees cross it, is the only thing he has left. In the end, when he’s finally on the Spanish side of the border, he just stays very close to the fence, instead of getting as far away as possible; to maintain the “connection” he has with the fence. He’s also trying to hide his previous self, so nobody will notice him when he walks down the street, so he keep his ears covered and his hand folded so that no one will notice the loss in it: “I wear my hat down over my ears. I keep my hand folded so no one sees the loss in it.” (p. 4, l. 124 – 125)
The story is a written in a first person point of view and the go-between is the narrator. The story is told in a very special way – and it can be read two different ways. Either the narrator is telling the reader about his experiences as a border crosser – like a conversation. E.g. – “I was telling you about….”. (p. 3, l. 81) Or he has simply gone insane from all the horrors he has seen, and is talking to himself – he also repeats his words quite often; “we had our own law system, and our own police. We had our own police!”. (p. 2, l. 60) It is very confusing for the reader, because it almost seems like it’s his stream of thoughts we read, because they are very unstructured and messy.
The story definitely shows how tough the conditions were for the refugees, before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are told how cruel and unfair the refugees were treated, and how dangerous and literally life threatening their everyday life could be. We also get an insight of the inhumanity that were shown to those who tried to “escape” their unsafe homes. Moreover, the author outlines the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All humans are born free and equal, and they should be treated so. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is probably one of the most important documents ever written, in my opinion. This story is not only a fight, but also a piece of history, written to ensure basic human dignity. Ali Smith uses humour throughout the story, to illustrate the cruelty of the borders – they way humour and irony is used in the story, will for sure leave a smile on your face.