Use Of Recurring Motifs In "Spies" By Michael Frayn

August 23, 2017 September 1st, 2019 Free Essays Online for College Students

Motifs are Frayn’s vehicles to help him discuss otherwise difficult messages. Throughout the book Frayn refers to objects that to the naked eye seem ordinary. Examples of these are the Privet, the Bayonet, and the Germs; these are the 3 major motifs that are referred to constantly in the book. All these are motifs that are vehicles in delivering a bigger message to the reader. The Privet, the focal point of the entire novel conveying within it are messages of adulthood, humour and childhood. The Bayonet, once again plays a core role in the novel, making reoccurring appearances highlighting the importance and great respect Stephen has for Keith’s family and friendship. The Germs, less important but nonetheless still mentioned numerous times, refers to Stephens’s inner self and subconscious mind that refuses to adapt and mature.

We are first introduced to the Privet right at the start of the book. It triggers Stephen’s memory and consequently the start of the entire story. Frayn describes the privet in a very peculiar manner, he uses a series of oxymoron’s and contrasts to describe its “reek”, this grabs the reader’s attention, because the privet is a common plant and yet we begin to see and almost smell it in a different way. Frayn describes it as a “sweet reek” with “a sexual urgency”, this hints to us that the plant is luring him and ‘seducing’ him to find out where the smell originates and what it reminds him of, furthermore this is another tool Frayn uses to grab our attention, when the reader first reads this idea of “sexual urgency” and confuses the reader and thus the entire topic of the privet is highlighted. One could say that the privet is Frayn’s metaphor for his childhood, these oxymoron’s used are his way of describing his complicated and confusing childhood. Alternatively, although the smell reveals his dark childhood, the smell is so powerful and “urgent” that Stephen cannot help but leave for London.

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This theme of sexuality that runs through the privet is reinforced by the reoccurring events that happen within the privet. When Stephen experiences his first close encounter with a girl was set in the “privet”, In fact even his second encounter with a woman was set in the privet, which brings back the idea of the smells “sexual urgency”. Frayn uses the hedge as his tool to include humour into the novel, through Keith’s ironic misspelling of the word “private”, additionally Stephen makes reference to the word “privy” which means toilet, this again is an ironic use of the motif, because Stephen knows it’s a misspelling yet refuses to tell Keith fearing to hurt Keith’s ego and this shows Frayn’s varied use of the word and reflects the structure of the novel due to how the privet slowly changes the story line from Keith and Stephen to Keith versus Stephen. The Privet is used as a motif for yet another theme, growing up. When Barbara Berill is in the privet with Stephen, they being to discuss Keith’s misspelling of the word and Stephens slow realisation that Keith is in fact wrong and not always right, this symbolizes a flame of maturity that was sparked by the topic of the “Privet”.

This idea of ‘growing up’ is not only limited to the “Privet” but also to the “bayonet”. This again involves the intervention of Barbara Berill to make things apparent to Stephen, when she rightfully says that the bayonet “looks more like a carving knife”, in which makes Stephen surrender to his urges to conform to Keith’s childlike ideas and thus contributing to his ‘maturity’. The bayonet is introduced to us as the “most secret and sacred possession… which killed 5 Germans”, this is a very interesting introduction to the item, Frayn uses alliteration “secret and sacred” to draw emphasis on the great deal of importance this item has on both Stephen and Keith. Furthermore, it is quite ironic that although Stephen is German himself, he is fond of the “bayonet” for it had killed 5 Germans. These ideas of the “bayonet” being important are reinforced with unusual descriptions such as “metaphysical complexity” the use of such words are Frayn’s means of putting across Stephen’s great appreciation of it, and perhaps highlighting Stephens ignorance since it was only a “carving knife” used as a replica for the real one. The “bayonet” seems to stand for a variety of ideas and themes. One may say that the “bayonet” is a metaphor for Keith and Stephens relationship. At every crucial point in the book, the “bayonet” makes an appearance. When Keith first tells Stephen of his secret, when Barbara takes over Keith’s position as Stephen’s best friend and finally when Keith attacks Stephen with it, which not only effectively ends his friendship with Stephen, but also highlights Keith’s hidden violent and disturbed nature. All these major evens are centred on the “bayonet” which reinforces the idea that it represents their friendship.

“The Germs” are the other major motifs in Frayn’s novel; it is portrayed in the form of “slime” until the bridge. The germs are slightly less major than the previous 2 motifs; however it still does depict a major theme into the novel. Fear, the germs are want stands between Stephen and the outside world, and consequently the barrier between him and maturity. Whenever Stephen attempts to brave onto the outside world or do an act of courage, the germs make an appearance that put him back into his panicky manner. This fear dominates Stephen so powerfully that he even mentions it when Keith cuts his throat, reinforcing Stephens’s absolute fear of Keith. This idea of the germs being Stephen’s barrier to adulthood is reinforced when he sees Keith’s mum fall into the germs. It is the first time Stephen seems an adult in such a vulnerable position, which frightens him. Consequently, having stumbled upon this theme, it becomes apparent that Frayn was in fact attempting to highlight it using other motifs. For example, when Stephen was in Aunt Dee’s house and saw the photographs of Keith’s mum and Aunt Dee together. Not only was it the moment that Stephen began to mature but also the moment where he realised that adults are in fact the same ‘species’ as children and can in fact be hurt.

Other minor motifs include the tunnel which again depicts the idea of Stephen’s passage to the outer and bigger world in which will help him mature and grow up, and one which he does not dare to enter. The cigarettes are again a metaphor for Stephen’s journey into adulthood. One may even say the entire close is a representation of the entire world and the idea that nothing is what it seems but in fact has deep “metaphysical complexity”.



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