Mr. and Mrs. Hayward seem to have the perfect family life. They are the most upper class family on the street, with their polished house, own maid and ideal child with a better education than other children. Mrs. Hayward is as calm and relaxed as can be, always seen with her feet up, reading a book, strolling to the shops or visiting her sister’s house for a harmless chat. Even her appearance is described as faultless with imagery such as ‘perfectly plucked eyebrows’. Mr. Hayward is portrayed as the stereotypical ideal husband who whistles and tends to the immaculate garden (focusing a lot on the roses) but also has a strong side having previously served in the war, making him capable of protecting his family, as any father figure would be expected to do. His appearance too is presented as flawless – he is said to have ‘white overalls as clean as the paintwork’. Overall, Frayn makes it clear the Haywards are the most enviable family on the street, ESPECIALLY to Stephen Wheatley.
With indefectible lifestyles, you would expect Keith Hayward’s parents to have an indefectible relationship too. It seems that way initially, but as we get deeper into the real meaning of the story, we realise the preciseness of Mr. Hayward’s trimmed roses and Mrs. Hayward’s flawlessly applied makeup are in fact false exteriors to conceal what lies behind closed doors. The fact the Haywards specifically have roses outside their house is a symbol of their relationship in many ways. Roses are known a flowers of love, romance and passion with their elegant and intense scarlet petals, however they have a hidden side; danger. Their red petals are the colour of blood and risk, and the thorns indicate hurt, meaning the Haywards’ relationship is not as desirable as it might seem, but is full of pain and pretence. The roses are placed at the front of the garden, perhaps there as a guard to protect their secrets from the rest of the street and show the Haywards’ exclusiveness.
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Frayn plays on Mr. Hayward’s whistling with repetition throughout the book, for example, ‘whistling, whistling, from morning to night’ and describes how the whistle ‘never reaches its destination’. This makes it clear how often Mr. Hayward whistles, and creates tension and anxiety; Frayn mentions Mr. Hayward’s whistling more when he is angrier. It seems to be Keith’s dad’s way of concealing his violent persona, but because we know the whistling is a telltale sign of trouble, it becomes eerie and frightening.
It is clear within the first chapters that there are great differences between Keith’s parents’ personalities. His father is a dominant character, always bossing Keith around. For example, Keith is often told to ‘pipeclay his cricket boots’. Even the words Frayn uses to show Mr. Hayward’s control are significant – they are often harsh and cold, for example, ‘ordered’ and ‘imposed’. On the contrary, Mrs. Hayward is less uptight and is depicted as more relaxed, always walking calmly to her sister’s house and serenely reading a book with her feet up. Mr. Hayward seems more of an outdoors, active person whereas Mrs. Hayward is a slower, indoors person, who has a nap every afternoon. This not only shows their differences, but implies that the couple hardly ever speak or spend time together.
Furthermore, Mr. Hayward shows his emotionless, brutal side when he canes Keith for naughtiness, and calls him ‘old bean’ with a sadistic ‘thin smile’ on his face. His violence is also illustrated in the story of how he killed five Germans with one bayonet and the fact he keeps this bayonet on his belt constantly and has a gun at the side of his bed, just in case any invade. His xenophobia towards Germans may be the reason he never speaks or even looks at Stephen (we find out later in the novel Stephen is in fact German), or that Stephen is too beneath him for any kind of communication. Initially, Keith’s mother never speaks directly to him but at least mentions his name and looks at him, but unlike Ted she gradually communicates with Stephen more and by the end she goes to him when in need of help.
As I have proven, the couple lack communication in their relationship, so Mrs. Hayward is isolated from the world, and has no one to talk to about her problems, especially after Mr. Hayward discovers her affair with Uncle Peter and keeps her trapped in the house like a child. This invokes a lot of sympathy for her, as it is easy to imagine how claustrophobic she feels living imprisoned with a sadistic husband and a son who aspires to be like him.
Keith becomes increasingly like his father through facial expressions – the ‘thin smile’ –, his words – ‘old bean’ –, and even the objects he keeps – the ‘bayonet’ carving knife which is kept inside the box in the privet and is a replica of Mr. Hayward’s. Keith hints that they attack Mrs. Hayward with this replica when they gather enough evidence to prove she’s a German spy – this reveals that he can’t respect his mother and suggests he may be learning this from his father. Something that stood out for me is that Keith’s mother is the only main character who never has a name, which is perhaps meant to show how insignificant she is to the family. When Keith attacks Stephen with the bayonet, he is passing on the cruelty he sees and suffers at home.
Scarves in this novel are very symbolic. Uncle Peter and Keith’s mother both have a scarf (or cravat) throughout the book and for a short time Stephen has a bandage around his neck. Whenever someone is in possession of one, they are in pain both physically – Uncle Peter is severely ill, Mrs. Hayward is being abused and Stephen was attacked by Keith – and emotionally – from being deeply involved with the secret of the story. When Uncle Peter dies he passes the burden of the scarf onto Stephen, and when Stephen disposes of it, it is the end of his part in the story. However, Mrs. Hayward wears scarves throughout the whole novel and long after the incident, perhaps indicating she is still grieving for Uncle Peter, but more importantly, Mr. Hayward still abuses her.
In conclusion, Frayn presents Keith’s parents’ relationship as one that is not as ‘rosy’ as it seems. He very cleverly shows the violence of the relationship with a very discreet but effective technique; not directly, but reflected in body language and of course, Keith himself.