A-level English/Spies

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Discussion of ironic narratives in ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn

In the novel, ‘Spies’, written by Michael Frayn, there are a lot of ironic narratives used by the author to give the reader a sense of higher knowledge above the characters. Through the medium of this essay I will be looking at these ironic narratives, focusing on chapter 3.

A lot goes on in this third chapter. The chapter picks-up on the revelation at the end of chapter 2 that Keith, Stephen’s best friend, firmly believes that his mother (Keith’s) is a German spy. We can then find many ironic narratives bound-up in this revelation. Indeed, most of the ironic narratives are found in the way we are transported into Stephen’s mind and presented with his deepest feelings. Stephen and Keith become convinced that Keith’s mother is a German spy. Stephen didn’t think it proper to contend what Keith tells him, or even ask how Keith came about this information. I will look at some examples of this in the next paragraph.You can even say that Steven's friendship resolves around Keith as Keith is seen to be dominant and in charge, this can be shown through. "He was the leader and I was the led."

While the two boys are investigating the German spy, better known as Mrs Hayward; Keith’s mother, they follow her around over the day. When Keith’s mother spots the boys crawling around gathering evidence from her, she points an imaginary gun at them ‘as if we were children’ in Stephen’s words. This is quite ironic as Keith’s mother isn’t actually a German spy and the two boys are children! Another humorous, similar example is when the children find some ‘mysterious’ marks in Keith’s mother’s diary. The boys quickly jump to the conclusion that these marks must be the dates where the ‘spy’ goes for secret rendezvous with her German compatriots. The truth is that the ‘monthly meeting dates’ are actually the dates in which Keith’s mother is on her period. The other marks, occurring at irregular intervals and on Keith’s parents anniversary are the dates in which she makes love to her husband. Stephens thoughts on these dates are particularly humorous, ‘some secret thing, what is it?’ Stephen thinks. That paragraph is particularly ironic.

Another falsity that Stephen believes is Keith’s father’s heroism. Keith’s dad keeps a car in the garage. For reasons relating to Germans hijacking the vehicle, Keith’s dad has removed the wheels and hung them on the wall. Keith is very impressed by his father’s knowledge and tells Stephen how clever he is. Keith also believes that his father is in the secret service. We can find the ironic narratives in this instance because we know the truth. Sadly, the Great War hero that Keith believes his father to be is actually doing his bit for the Duration in the home front or, the ‘Dads Army’. This is typical behaviour for a young boy, as nearly every child sees their father as a higher being, who they aspire to. Some quotes relating to this belief follow in the next paragraph.

Stephen explains that he could have believed that anyone, even Keith’s dad, was a German spy after the ‘truth’ about Keith’s mother was revealed. However, he could not believe that Keith’s dad was a spy as Keith had made him aware of his father’s ‘secret service work and his notable attempts to reduce the German population during the Great War’. This is ironic as there isn’t much truth in Stephens’s interpretation of Keith’s father either. Another ironic quote from Stephen is when he spies a neighbouring child’s tricycle. He is shocked to believe that it is left out. ‘Even the Avery’s’ boys three-wheeler is sitting abandoned in its oil stains - easy prey, with all three wheels still attached, for any passing German troops’. Stephen was inspired to think this, as he knows that Keith’s father keeps a car, minus wheels, in his garage. Keith tells Stephen that the reason for this is so that passing German troops cannot hijack his vehicle.

All in all, we can conclude that Chapter 3 is bursting with ironic narratives and I have looked at and evaluated the main points. To conclude spies is a dramatic novel which interweaves many key and apt themes along with reoccurring motifs and extended metaphors

Frayn also creates tension which is reoccurring throughout the entire novel.