The opening chapter of “Spies” by Michael Frayn is host to an implicit suggestion of the wartime class hierarchy.The second chapter of the book opens with the description of the place that the main character, Stephen used to live and with the simple quote “the same old quite, sweet, dull ordinariness” and the reference to the “close” conjures images of the still thriving middle class, British snobbery. Frayn portrays an ordered world as he runs through descriptions of the houses creating a sense of uniformity for example he refers to “the endless clacking of Mr Sheldon’s shears”. This tells the reader that people in his area are house-proud which, incidentally, makes Stephen’s family’s differences stand out starkly.
Stephen introduces his house as part of “the only semi-detached pair in the close” and the affect of this is that an instant stigma is placed onto Stephen; he is socially below the others in his area. In fact, Frayn drums this image further into the reader by writing “it was just a number when I lived in it” and then adding on “scarcely even a number” showing that his house was dismissed by others because of the fact that it was lower down on the Close’s hierarchy.The image of Stephen’s house is shabby and unkempt, references such as “the old, cracked, watermarked grey” and “the promiscuous muddle of shrubs that my father never tended to” shows a stark contrast when compared to the Hayward’s house. Frayn introduces the Hayward’s house with the three choppy sentences “No. 9. Chollerton. The Haywards.
” they are issued like an abrupt military statement and compared to the relaxed, long, flowing sentences in the description of Stephen’s house- this is extremely noticeable. The Hayward’s are portrayed as being perfect. While Stephen’s house is dull and grey, the Hayward’s “flawlessly white”. This image shows the middle classes’ image of purity- a house kept well with well mannered, well dressed children.An obvious way to compare class hierarchy in the book is to compare Stephen and Keith. Firstly clothing is a massive difference, Stephen is seen with “one of his grubby tennis shoes” being undone whereas Keith is shown with his “brown leather sandals” being neatly buckled. Stephen here has cheap, grubby shoes and in contrast, Keith has expensive, neat shoes giving off an unmissable air of middle class precision of image that sets Keith above Stephen in the close hierarchy.
The difference even continues to the uniformity of the plain socks that boys of the period wore; Frayn writes, “One of his long grey socks has slipped down his leg” in reference to Stephen, on the other hand Keith’s are “neatly pulled up to half an inch below his knees”. This image, and the use of the precise measurements, shows that Keith is a “proper” ordered little boy, suitable for the middle class society. Even Stephen’s attempts cannot seem to save him from his lowered status, whilst he visits the Hayward’s house he “pulls up his sagging socks”. The use of the alliteration of the “s” sound is silly and comedic giving the reader the impression that of course Stephen can’t escape his social standing. Inevitably we are shown that “the sock with the failed garter slipped down”, a sad image that reinforces Stephen’s inferiority when put in the perfect haven of the Hayward’s house.
The whole of Stephen and Keith’s friendship seems to revolve around the complexities of being socially right or socially wrong. This even applies to school where they are “socially colour coded for ease of reference” which tells the reader that hierarchy is something that is black and white, or rather split into two definable groups. First of all is the Yellow and Black group, the colours of the “right local preparatory school”, this is compared to the green and white of the school Stephen attends which seems devoid of prospect and opportunity and Frayn refers to it’s pupils as “gangling oafs”.The reader soon becomes puzzled by the strange combination of the social classes and Frayn addresses this as he writes “I was acutely aware, even then, of my incomprehensible good fortune in being Keith’s friend” and he is true, Stephen certainly wouldn’t be let into most families of the Hayward’s prowess. AS suggestion as to why he was let in could be that the Hayward’s saw no threat in Stephen, they felt that he could not disturb the blatant perfectness of their life by disturbing any secrets or prying too much, after all their impression of Stephen was probably set by which school he attended.Keith holds the authority in his and Stephen’s relationship, much like one of an army regiment.
Keith’s superiority is governed by “intellectual and imaginative superiority” something that also seems to imply a hierarchy in the close. Even Keith’s possessions seem to be more “right” compared to Stephen. For example Stephen’s narrative informs the reader that ” he has a special sports model” and that “Green’s the right colour for a bicycle, just as it’s the wrong one for a belt”, this tells us Keith clearly knows his place in the preset hierarchy, he is the observer.
In conclusion I can clearly see that Frayn has highlighted the class hierarchy in the beginning of the book. It sets the scene for the book with its’ connotations of suburban snobbery yet it also brings an air of mystery to the book when the strangeness of Stephen’s and Keith’s relationship is brought to light. After all, Frayn has written, “The Haywards were impeccable. And yet they tolerated Stephen!” summing up the odd feel of the combination.