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In the first chapter of Michael Frayn’s novel ‘Spies’, amongst the limited amount of characters introduced, is Keith. The reader is given no background knowledge about him, only that “Does he ever think about the things that happened that summer?” meaning that Keith is a significant person as it is implied that he shared the narrator’s (revealed as Stephen in chapter 2) experience that particular, somewhat haunting summer. However in Chapter 2 a lot more information is given about Keith and details about the depth of friendship between Keith and Stephen begin to emerge.
In Chapter 2, one of the first memories Stephen comes to is that of his house.
“…in spite of the fact that it’s attached to No.3- the only semidetached pair in the Close,” indicating that Stephen is somewhat the odd one out, when he says ‘only,’ and almost uncomfortable about admitting to this. He then goes on to describe his ghastly neighbours who were ‘even more shameful’ than his house, and how they ‘brought us down with them.,’ and he then goes on to expresses his distress about being attached to the ‘undesirables’. Also that he was still somewhat ‘faintly embarrassed about it’ despite all the years that had past.
Throughout this chapter, Stephen implies to the reader how his house was neglected, and ‘never tended’ to, and this could easily link to his and his parents’ relationship with each other. Next, Stephen then describes how he ‘doesn’t need to open the front gate because it’s already, rotted drunkenly away from the top hinge,’ as he makes his way to Keith’s house, however, once arriving there, he goes through the ‘White wicket gate on its well oiled hinges and closes it carefully behind him’.
The keywords here are ‘white’ suggesting purity (unlike the rot on Stephen’s gate), and ‘carefully’ as Stephen obviously feels he should treat Keith’s gate with respect, even if he has no regard for his own, as it has been so well maintained. Immediately the gates highlight the contrast between Keith and Stephen, however the contrast then grows as the reader is introduced to Keith’s house, which is perceived as ‘neat’, ‘flawless’ and ‘perfection’ by Stephen. This is because Keith’s house is exactly the opposite of Stephen’s, and the unlikely forming of friendship of these two boys is defiantly presented with the differences of lifestyle and houses.
Another key point used in the presentation of friendship between Stephen and Keith is the boys’ appearance. Stephen is described as ‘grubby’, with one of his ‘grey socks’ slipping down his leg into a thick concertina. The narrator (older Stephen) asks the rhetorical question ‘What do I feel about him as I watch him now?’, and then goes on to answer this himself claiming his appearance to be ‘unsatisfactory’. Keith is then bought into the story, and his appearance, like the houses, is the exact opposite of Stephen; ‘His shirt, though, not to short, his shorts are not to long.’ Also he is described as ‘neat’ compared to his ‘unsatisfactory’ friend.
However the most significant thing about the boy’s appearances is their uniform. The narrator describes how once seeing Keith, he no longer views himself as ‘monochrome’ or slightly ashamed of his younger self. This is purely down to the fact that he can now see both their belts. The boys each have a different colour belt; Stephen’s being green whereas Keith’s is yellow. The reader then learns why, as well as some more background information on Stephen and Keith. “We’re socially colour coded for ease of reference.” Meaning that being ‘green’ is ‘the colours of a wrong school’. This tells the reader that the boys do not go to school together, and Keith goes to a much higher rated school in the society around them. From this alone the reader can gain a better understanding of the social differences between the two boys, the houses also lead to the fact that Keith is a great deal wealthier than Stephen.
Moving on to the ‘games’ room in Keith’s house, it is immediately clear of the presentation of the social differences once again, ‘His playroom was well ordered as the rest of the house’, from this we can once again confirm that Keith is a great deal better off than Stephen, ‘All Keith’s toys are his own’. Not only this, but the reader can begin to figure out the boy’s individual personalities- Stephen is care-free and entirely not phased by his appearance, where as Keith is a very neat, and well organised personality. Once again, complete opposites, which is what the narrator wants to show to the reader.
Not only do objects, and clothes define the differences in Stephen’s and Keith’s relationship, but both their parents do as well. For example Keith’s mum, is very similar to Keith as she takes pride in her appearance, ‘she raises her perfectly plucked eyebrows.’ His father is also similar to the glamorised ‘perfect’ family image that Stephen is creating, as he spends most of his time ‘trimming, pruning, and perfecting’ things such as the garden. Not only this, but the relationship between parents and child seems to be quite strong, as they put the same amount of effort and love into their property and appearance as they do with Keith.
He even has various pet names such as ‘old chap or ‘old bean’, and his mother seem to always want to know what Keith is doing/ up to. But, when Stephen goes on to describe his family, once again, completely different, and the parents reflect their child, as Stephen’s dad is described to be ‘unsatisfactory as Stephen’s’, not only this, but his parents have no pet names for him, or seem to particularly care where he is going. The conflicting backgrounds of the boys don’t seem to affect their relationship in the slightest.
To summarise, although the author presents the boys to be of entirely different backgrounds, wealth, and social status, he makes it known to the reader that these are the foundations on which the boy’s friendship is built on.
Being different to each other only draws them closer together. For instance, Keith calls the shots, but Stephen is still astonished and proud that Keith even wants to be his friend (as he is so ashamed of himself and his family) so doesn’t feel resentful in the slightest, ‘He was the officer corps in our two man army. I was the Other Ranks- and grateful to be so.’ Although Stephen may envy Keith’s lifestyle, he certainly doesn’t hold any judgement towards him, and is glad that he gets to share an experience of how the other half lives. Despite the various class/economical clashes, the boys are still great friends, and seem to follow suit that opposites do attract.