3The novel is set in World War 2 Britain and in the present day. The narrator (Stephen) begins in the present and then looks back at the past, remembering his own childhood.Stephen returns as an older man, 50 years later, to the scene of his childhood as he attempts to unpick the events of one period of his life.He explores what happened and looks back with both nostalgia and sadness at what occurred.There is a sense of class structure in the novel, with Keith’s family higher than Stephen’s and the Berrill family lower still.There is mystery and naivety as events are seen through the eyes of a child.
4Key Characters STEPHEN Stephen’s background is shrouded in mystery, as are a number of elements in the novel, and is only explained later.Stephen, it turns out towards the end of the novel, is not English, but German.His family moved to England in This would most probably have been because they were escaping the persecution there. His father is a German Jew and his mother is English.They live a very middle class life, but he feels inferior to his friend Keith, who goes to a better school and his family are a higher class than his.He is very much a follower and does what he is told to do, to the extent that he gets too involved in their spying game/ action.He grows up a lot in the novel as he realises that things aren’t as they seem.He has sexual feeling too, as Barbara awakens his adolescence.Stephen is an outsider and it seems he is bullied at school.
5THE OTHER CHILDREN KEITH Intelligent, calm, organised, he comes up with all the ideas in his activities with Stephen.A leader, Stephen follows him obediently to begin with.An outsider, no one seems to like him, except for Stephen.He is aloof and does not like to mix with those he considers to be beneath him, which seems to be all the children on the street.He is deceptive and Stephen always gets the blame for leading him astray when it is clearly he that is leading Stephen.Keith is brought up strictly by his parents, particularly his father.His life is ordered and controlled.School dominates his life (showing order) and he is always cleaning his cricket bat or tidying his bedroom to emphasise this sense of ordered life. In some ways Stephen’s involvement with him breaks down the order and this eventually leads to the problems.
6BARBARABarbara spies on the boys during the novel.It is never explained how she knows exactly when they are in their hideout, but she does.She challenges Stephen and encourages him to be independent of Keith.Stephen feels threatened by her, but also strangely attracted to her.She stirs feelings in Stephen and contributes to his sexual awakening.She contributes to Stephen’s experimentation with smoking.She is a lower class than Keith and even Stephen, although she can relate to Stephen more.
7THE HAYWARDS MR HAYWARD A very strict, ordered man. Perhaps he is making up for the fact that he isn’t fighting like the rest of the men so he has to have a strong sense of control at home.He appears quite brutal and his beating of Keith, although never actually described, seems unpleasant.There is a sinister edge to his character as he never seems to get annoyed in an uncontrolled manner, as his voice remains calm and casual, which makes him seem even more threatening.Whilst he has control over Keith in the end, he has to work hard to keep his wife in check. He is not a character we feel any affection towards.MRS HAYWARDThere is a lot of mystery surrounding her. Is she a spy? Where does she go on her frequent shopping trips?She is presented as an attractive lady.She hardly ever speaks to Stephen at first and it is only when she realises they are spying on her that she has to.Out of desperation she implores Stephen to help her. Her emotional nature breaks in here and we feel sorry for her.
8KEY THEMES Leadership/ power Mr Hayward is the figure of strong authority in the novel. Stephen’s father seems more laid back and there is no threat to prevent Stephen from going out in the night.Keith, like his father, needs to be in control and Stephen, like his father, is more laid back and seems to like being lead.When power seems to be taken from the leaders they do not like it and will use various methods to try and get it back.AwakeningStephen goes through adolescent awakening in the novel.He smokes for the first time and has sexual feelings.He also acts independently and is rebellious, showing the development from child to adult. In many ways he is more independent and grown up than Keith by the end of the novel, but his experiences will have a lasting effect on him at the end.
9Narrative uncertainty Because the narrative comes from an adult looking back at his childhood, it is not always reliable as the memory can fade and all the details given are not totally clear.Sometimes we can see what the young Stephen can’t and other times we are left uncertain as to what it all means.There is an innocence and naivety to Stephen’s narrative which reflects his youth.War/conflictThe background of the war fits the conflicts that go on in the domestic life of the novel.There is the conflict between Stephen and his parents, Keith and his father, Mr and Mrs Hayward and the police visit Auntie Dee. Stephen also conflicts with Mr and Mrs Hayward in different ways. There is also the class conflict. Stephen also meets conflict in his school life as it seems he has been bullied.
10SYMBOLS THE BAYONET A sense of threat. Used to make the pact of secrecy.Symbol of power and authority when linked to Mr Hayward.Used as a weapon against Mrs Hayward.THE DIARYShould be secret.The mystery symbols are wrongly and innocently interpreted by the boys. The x probably represents Mrs Hayward’s periods, although this mystery is never fully explained.By invading her privacy all sorts of problems ensue.
11PLACES GARDENS The gardens are symbolic: Stephen’s garden is mysterious and not described in any great detail, much like his family background, which is kept vague.The Hayward’s garden is ordered, tidy and well groomed, showing how the Keith family, at least on the surface, is ordered and, in Stephen’s view, very neat and tidy.The Berrill’s garden is wilder and with the wild roses growing, symbolises the wild nature of the daughters whilst their father is away at war.THE TUNNELSymbolic of Stephen's passage into becoming an adult.The tunnel separates the Close he lives in from the mysterious Lanes. By going down the tunnel and venturing into the lanes he is showing independence and courage. It is difficult at first and not without problems as the dogs add to the threat, but he bravely faces his fears.
12It is part of the theme of adventure in the novel as he discovers the box and the uniform there. Keith is just as afraid as Stephen as to what they will find there and it seems Stephen has the power in the tunnel.It also shows the class divide from the Close to the Lanes.PRIVETMeans a number of things:Private, a place for discovery and secrecy.It is there to hide things and to keep things quiet, but it has the opposite effect on Stephen as he smokes here and has his first experience of sexual awakening.Confused with ‘Privvy’, a toilet, which links to bodily functions and germs which Stephen is obsessed about (a fault of his parents?) and possible because of the German nickname.
13Summary Set in World War Two. Mystery surrounds what Mrs Hayward is doing.There is considerable conflict in the novel.Class structure is significant.There is an awakening from childhood to adolescence for Stephen.The narrative structure sees an adult looking back on his childhood and can be unreliable.