The sample essay on Stephen Spies deals with a framework of research-based facts, approaches and arguments concerning this theme. To see the essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion, read on.
The relationship between Keith and Stephen is one of the central parts of the book and provides much of the dynamism. Keith and Stephen are best friends and when Keith tells him that his mother is a “German Spy” the two of them embark on a mission to uncover her secrets. As the story progresses we see both of the characters develop and with this their relationship with each other.At the start of the book Frayn portrays a relatively harmless and normal relationship. As they follow Mrs Hayward, the “German spy”, around it seems to be a childlike fantasy. The possibility of Keith’s mother actually being a spy is fairly unbelievable and there is little suggestion of the secret that is later uncovered. Great plans for underground railways and overhead cableways are described but there is the admission that these plans of Keith’s have not been “put into effect”. On page 50 Frayn presents them as a comic duo as they try and figure out the elusive “x”. The reader can plainly work out that the “x”, which is happening “each month”, is Mrs Hayward’s period. Frayn is clearly presenting the naivety of the two children to humorous effect. Stephen tries to suggest an explanation for the mysterious ‘x’ but as he tries in vain he realises,”He’s somehow ahead of me again, and simply biding his time to tantalise me.”Keith is clearly dominant over Stephen but this is not an unusual arrangement. Stephen explains his status in the relationship in the boyhood terms of,”He was the officer corps of our two man army. I was the Other Ranks – and grateful to be so”Stephen is not bitter about the inferiority of his role because it seems natural to him. At some parts of the book Stephen even seems to think of himself as part of Keith. He talks about them as if they are a single entity: “we say nothing”; “we mustn’t let her know that we know”. This is similar to deadkidsongs by Toby Litt in which, at the start of the book, the gang of boys is portrayed as one single entity which slowly breaks apart as the book progresses. Stefan admits that Keith was one of a long line of “dominant figures” in his life and so he seems to be a naturally subservient character. In contrast Keith’s position as leader seems entirely natural because of his “intellectual and imaginative superiority and social background.To understand the nature of their relationship it is important to understand the social contrasts between them. Keith’s family is seen as the paragon of what every family should be. In contrast Stephen’s family is decidedly “unsatisfactory”. A similar situation exists in L.P Hartley’s The Go-Between where Marcus’s family is a lot richer than Leo’s and this creates a feeling of inferiority in Leo. A lot more is said about Keith’s parents than is ever said about his own. Keith’s dad punishes him and, as absurd as this may seem to the reader, Stephen sees this as the right thing for a father to do. Stephen idolises the well groomed Mrs Hayward whom his own mother, in her “faded apron” cannot compete with. Stephen feels an “admiring jealousy” at Keith’s luck for having,”A father in the Secret Service and a mother who’s a German Spy”Whereas Stephen doesn’t even have “one parent of any interest”. Unlike the “terrible connectedness” of his own semidetached house Keith’s house stands on its own. Stephen describes, in great detail, the “ethereal” qualities of Keith’s house. The smell in Keith’s toy room is a “rightful” scent; everything in Keith’s house seems “right”. Stephen’s own house has “scuffed armchairs” and a boring “savannah” of a garden. They attend separate schools and wear different uniforms, Stephen remarks that they are “colour coded for ease of reference”. Stephen acutely feels the social divide between the two families and feels a sense of “good fortune” in being associated with such a family of “heroic proportions”. Biblical allusions are present in many of Stephen’s messianic descriptions of Keith, he says,”In each case he uttered the word and the words became so”Owing to their relationship Stephen is pushed into doing things he would not necessarily do. Stephen is a weak boy and is highly dependant on Keith and this is exploited by Keith. Keith seems to be the main protagonist; he tells Stephen about his mother, he makes them look in her diary and he chooses to follow her. When they go to her study Stephen voices his reservations that her journal is “private” but Keith has no qualms about such matters and ignores his friend’s comment. Stephen does not have the strength to assert any control over Keith and thus he complies with Keith’s wishes. Stephen finds it hard to articulate himself and thus Keith provides what Stephen lacks. Keith seems to have somewhat of a moral deficit and thus his and Stephen’s relationship is a dangerous one because Stephen is easily led. He is constantly making Stephen feel inferior whether it is verbally or by a disdainful silence. Keith castigates Stephen when he discovers that he hid his face in fear of the mysterious man. Even before Keith calls him a “baby” Stephen anticipates his reaction and feel ashamed. Keith’s hypocrisy is revealed later on when he hides his face in fear. Stephen has internalised Keith’s view of him and a lot of what he does out of shame. He goes out at night to make one “heroic deed” which will cause all his “weaknesses and errors” to be “wiped away. A similar relationship exists in Litt’s deadkidsongs; Andrew’s psychopathic agenda draws the rest of “gang” into criminal activities. The full potency of Keith and Stephen’s relationship is revealed when they attack the “tramp”. Stephen seems to morph in Keith and shows a sadistic pleasure in scaring the tramp,”I can’t wait to see the comical terror on the old man’s face”Stephen is mimicking Keith’s attitude. The bullied has transformed into the bully. Stephen relishes the chance to assert authority upon what he perceives to be a lesser being. We can trace the origins of this conduct back up the chain of authority to Keith’s father.Despite Stephen’s worshipping of the Haywards there is already a rift between his perception and the readers’. He never mentions that Keith’s dad is retired and that this is the reason for him always being at home. He seems to admire the fact that Mr Hayward canes Keith and criticises his father for not doing – this seems absurd to the reader. Stephen’s perception of what is “right” has no real logical basis and this is revealed by phrases like,”Green’s the right colour for a bicycle, just as it’s the wrong one for a belt or a bus”The reader can’t help but feel sorry for Mr Wheatley who went away for a year but nobody really noticed. The extent of Stephen’s warped perceptions is gradually revealed throughout the book. Even relatively near the beginning Stephen’s belief in Keith’s intellectual superiority is called into question when Keith misspells “privet” and “secrit”. Barbara Berril tells Stephen that, “no-one likes him except you” and refers to him as “stuck-up” and “horrible.” Gradually the image Stephen provides us of a hero is eroded to expose Keith as being just a damaged little boy. Keith’s cruelty culminates in his attack on Stephen. Keith attacks him with his own “bayonet” in an imitation of his father’s violence.Keith attacks Stephen because he thinks that Stephen has broken their “oath”. There is a very ritualistic element to their friendship which Keith takes very seriously. At the beginning Keith makes Stephen swear on the “bayonet” never to “reveal anything” and, foreshadowing Keith’s attack, Keith makes him say,”So cut my throat and hope to die”This oath is another way in which Keith asserts his control over the malleable Stephen. Like many other things in the book this seemed to be just a childish game but it has dark consequences. When he thinks Stephen has broken this oath Keith feels himself losing control and cuts Stephen’s throat with the “bayonet”. Stephen realises by now that part of the reason for Keith’s actions are what is happening in his house, he says,”the crime he’s punishing in me is not mine at all, but one that’s being committed in his own house.”Keith might be perceived as a lonely and abused boy exerting dominance over Stephen as some form of self validation. From the start links are drawn between Keith and his father and as the true extent of his father’s cruelty is realised so is Keith’s. Keith goes from merely imitating his father’s “half lidded” stair and adopting affectations like “old bean” to outright violence. Keith makes no attempt to stand up for himself and says,”My heart shrivels at the sound of his father’s tone and his father’s phrase, at my own hopelessness”The relationship between these two young boys is the stimulus of the plot. Keith and Stephen both begin a “game” but find themselves flung into the dangerous adult world. Together they cross the “frontier into another country altogether”. At the end it seems to be Stephen who comes out of the ordeal the worse. The inferiority Stephen feels at the expense of Keith is what motivates him to uncover the secret. Frayn uses the relationship to present how appearances can be deceiving. At the start Frayn presents us a seemingly innocent and typical relationship. They are two boys wrapped up in their own fantasy world of German spies and conspiracy. However, the relationship transmutes and as the book progresses it becomes increasingly more dangerous.