Key features of Spies in the opening chapter Essay
Key features of Spies in the opening chapter
The key features of Spies are introduced and highlighted by the use of different narrative techniques which occur throughout the novel. One of the most important features in the novel is mystery; this is created largely due to the fact that Stephen is not a reliable narrator. His uncertainty means that we are not told the truth at times. This very aspect portrays Spies as a modern novel. By creating ambiguity there is no certainty or clarity in the plot, despite the narrator having lived through the story. This enables Frayn to comment on perception, an important theme in the novel.
Childhood is also a vital aspect in this novel as it helps readers discover Stephen’s past and acknowledge the way in which he has grown up. It also assists readers in drawing differences between Stephen as a youth and an old man narrator; furthermore it helps Frayn to comment on identity which is another key feature. Relationships are also significant as they are either made or broken in Spies. Moreover the structure of the novel in itself is fundamental and acts as a key feature, largely because it creates suspense and helps introduce the key features.
The opening chapter is written in two different tenses; the present in which we establish the effect the smell of a plant has on the narrator who is an old man, the past tense in which memories are introduced by the old man narrator and again the present tense as the old man narrator travels back in time and recounts some of those memories. Mystery is something which cannot be explained or understood, and often leaves the reader confused. This is instantly accomplished in the very first sentence of the opening chapter:
“The third week of June, and there it is again: the same almost embarrassingly familiar breath of sweetness… ” We are introduced to the novel in the present tense which draws the reader in and acquaints them with the same knowledge as the narrator. “June” helps establish a time. Moreover “it” is an unknown factor which is introduced with the third person pronoun that helps create intrigue by giving “it” an importance. “… again:” suggests that the narrator has formally been acquainted with this unknown factor but is withholding this information from the reader.
The use of a colon in the quotation allows readers a moment to pause and so the pace gathers suspense. It also acts as a qualifier as after the colon the “it” is disclosed, “… almost embarrassingly familiar breath of sweetness… ” We are left to question why a “familiar breath of sweetness” is embarrassing. Frayn reveals that a smell is the subject of the sentence, but in doing so he creates further intrigue. This however is subsequently revealed to be the smell of privet. The privet is a shrub – and it is the smell of this shrub which conjures embarrassing memories.
This is explored in Chapter Five of the novel when we come across Stephen and Keith’s mother in the privet: “I’m too embarrassed to watch her… You can’t look at her face… There’s nowhere left expect the bit in between and that part of a lady, as I’ve known for at least a year now, is her bosom… ” This creates humour; something which is consistent throughout Spies as Frayn describes Stephan’s naivety as a child. It also solves the root of Stephen’s embarrassment. Mysteries continue to be featured in the opening chapter as a key feature which is subsequently developed in the novel.
“… for a moment I’m a child again and everything’s before me – all the frightening, half-understood promise of life. ” In this quotation we witness a time shift from the present to the past in which the first person narrator is an adult reflecting upon his childhood. The key words used within this quotation are: “frightening”, “half-understood”, and “promise of life”. These words conjure a sense of negativity and leave the reader questioning why the smell is frightening and half understood.
The word “frightening” introduces us to suspense, and leaves us to question the uncertainty of this intriguing smell. Furthermore, “… frightening, half-understood promise of life,” illustrates that the narrator’s upbringing was distorted, as a child’s future, the “promise of life” is a positive reference, but Stephen’s recollection of his has negative connotations. This is reflected in Chapter 9 where Stephen is faced by Mr Hayward. “I follow him across the street to the Haywards’ house, holding the basket with both hands, sick with apprehension.
” This quotation reinforces the fear felt by Stephen as a child. “Sick” suggests that Stephen is distressed. In addition “apprehension” illustrates the fact that Stephen is in fear and extremely terrified of Mr Hayward’s actions. The second paragraph of the opening Chapter continues in the present tense to allow us as readers to learn more about the intriguing smell. It draws the reader’s awareness to every detail and makes us want to read on. “It must come from the gardens. Which one? I can never trace it. ”
Frayn’s use of a question and the short sentence reflects the old man narrator’s confusion. “I can never trace it,” confirms the uncertainty and mystery over the smell as well as reflecting the narrator’s state of mind of confusion and agitation. Frayn develops this theme of confusion and perception, throughout Spies. In Chapter Five Stephen does not know the meaning of “x. ” “What is the value of x, I struggle to calculate, over and over again through the long confusions of the night… ” Here it is evident that Frayn is withholding information which intrigues the readers.
The value of “x” is unclear – this leaves it open to interpretation as “x” highlights mystery. To the readers “x” can emphasize numerous factors. This may include birthdays, anniversaries, bank associated dates and so forth. Returning to the second paragraph of the novel Frayn writes, “It’s not like the heartbreaking tender sweetness of the lime blossom… ” The use of an oxymoron reinforces the old man narrator’s confusion as he tries to identify the source of the smell. This creates mystery and suspense. One critical evaluation of this is argued by Max Watman, in which he states,
“If we are not to benefit from the older man’s perspective until the last dozen or so pages, why introduce him at the start? ” – Max Watman, The New Criterion, (May 2002) I strongly disagree as without two narrative voices the difference between appearance and reality cannot be achieved. This creates mystery which ties in with the fact that Frayn often withholds information until the next paragraph or chapter to create anticipation. The old man narrator continues with, “What is it, that terrible, disturbing presence in the summer air? ”
The words, “terrible” and “disturbing” create an ominous tone. The narrator is giving it a physical representation by referring to it as a negative “presence;” this gives it a nightmarish quality; something which haunts the narrator and which will inevitably haunt us. This reinforces the sense of mystery. The smell continuous to be described with negative imagery, “There’s nothing clean… about the reek… ” The word “reek” suggests an unpleasant, powerful smell and creates a negative tone. “Insinuating itself so slyly,” Suggests that the smell is somewhat sneaky and creeps upon him unexpectedly.
It’s evident that the smell is frustrating him; furthermore the word “insinuating” suggests that it is reminding the old man narrator of unpleasant memories. The smell acts as a catalyst and prompts Stephen to remember Keith’s mother, “She’s sitting in the dust in front of me, weeping… seeping unnoticed into the deepest recesses of my memory, to stay with me for the rest of my life, is that sweet and luring reek. ” The use of assonance among, “seeping, deepest, weeping… ” portrays to us the lingering painful memories. The memory off the past is finished of negatively with the repetition of “reek.
” The hard ‘k’ sound at the end makes it sound harsh. Childhood plays another key feature in the novel seen in the opening chapter where Frayn uses another oxymoron to present the contradiction of a, “Far-off nearby land. ” One interpretation of this is that the narrator is physically distant from his ‘home’ but nevertheless, it is nearby in his memories – again this reflects the narrator’s confusion and agitation concerning the smell, as it reminds him of his childhood. “You can’t go back, everyone knows that… So I’m never going then… I’m getting old. ”
Frayn gradually reveals information concerning the narrator’s persona; here we can establish that the narrator is an old man who should have a better understanding of his past then appears to be the case. The use of ellipses: “everyone knows that… ” portrays that the narrator is hesitant about what he is going to do. Childish hesitation, in contrast, is to be expected as part of the process of growing up, “Keith? ‘ I query, trying not to sound as frightened as I am. What are you doing? Where are you? I climb reluctantly back through the hole in the fence. ”
“Reluctantly” shows that Stephen is unwilling and not keen to climb back through the fence. This proves his hesitation and dependency on Keith and the fact that he doesn’t want to pursue anything without him because he doesn’t have the confidence to do so. The fact that the old man narrator seems to be equally hesitant creates suspense as the reader wonders what terrible events must have occurred in his childhood. “Then the laughter’s gone… I don’t know what to do or what to say. ” Here again we witness the dilemma faced by the narrator as a child and his inability to deal with the complications set before him.
By introducing the key feature of childhood in the opening chapter, we are able to witness how Stephen grows up as portrayed in Chapter Eight: “Do I feel alright?… I have a sense of freedom, as if I’m no longer bound by the rules and restrictions of childhood. ” This shows Stephen growing up and slowly moving away from depending on Keith. As part of growing up, comes the awakening sense of romance and sexuality: “Its name breathes itself through the perfumed air as slowly and softly as a sigh: L… a… m… o… r… n… a… ” The use of personification within this quotation of Chapter Eight helps portray the idea that “L…
a… m… o… r… n… a… ” is alive by giving it a long vowel sound as though it is breathing; a type of human quality. This ultimately shows Stephen’s increased awareness of his senses which suggests his sexuality and him growing up. Identity in Spies is another key feature and ties in significantly with childhood. Firstly the identification of the smell is vitally significant. The fact that the narrator’s daughter identifies it as “Liguster,” which is the German name for the shrub, reveals more about the narrator’s identity: “Liguster… No.
And yet, as another wave of that shameless summons drifts over us, everything inside me stirs and sifts. ” The personification within this quotation illustrates a persistent sense demanding Stephen’s attention. “Liguster… ” The use of ellipsis shows the control that the smell has over him; it stays with him and has settled on his conscience, “Liguster… And yet it’s whispering to me of some thing secret, of some dark and unsettling thing at the back of my mind, of something I don’t quite like to think about… ” This portrays the smell as devious.
“Liguster” is a catalyst within Stephen’s memories; it is the Liguster that makes him remember his childhood. The words “dark and unsettling,” are both very negative. They suggest the unknown and ooze a lack of understanding where Frayn is deliberately trying to block out this secret. Furthermore it leaves readers to question why ‘Liguster’ is “dark and unsettling. ” We wonder what awful event or events must have occurred. In addition, the quotation: “… whispering to me… ” is personification which reminds us of something surreptitious that is devious and cunning and suddenly creeps up on him.
This can be linked to the key theme of perception, which is the difference between appearance and reality allowing insight on a matter. “There was a German spy in the Close that summer. It wasn’t his mother – it was me. ” This quotation creates irony as throughout Spies, Stephen related German people to germs, as in Chapter Ten: “He’s an old tramp, filthy and bearded. And he’s a German! His Germanness lingers in the air… ” This reinforces his childhood and the immaturity attached to it; whereas the quotation within Chapter Eleven reveals the real identity of the old man narrator: “… this old man is Stefan Weitzler. “
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 July 2017
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