In the novel ‘spies’ Michael Frayn’s use of symbolism is mainly expressed through first person narrative. Three of the most important uses of symbolism are expressed through the ‘X’, the privet and germs and Germans.
The ‘X’ is repeated throughout the whole novel and acts as a chorus every time the boys investigate Keith’s mother.Frayn’s use of ‘X’ begins on page forty eight when Stephen and Keith are looking through Keith’s mothers diary ‘a tiny x…whatever this inconspicuous symbol means it plainly not meant to be read or understood by anyone else.
We’ve stumbled across something that is actually secret’ the X is a secret symbol but not for the reasons that the boys believe. Stephen and Keith see more and more X’s as they go through the diary however they come to completely the wrong conclusion as they suspect she is operating with Germans as opposed to it being her period.The X becomes one of the most important factors in the boys ‘investigations’. Stephen devotes almost all of his time to trying to figure out what the X’s mean. ‘The single x haunts my dreams. What is the value of x, I struggle to calculate over and over again through the long confusions of the night, if x=k’s motherï¿½..
.? X the unknown and the X’s in Keith’s mothers diary elide in with x the multiplier and the value of x becomes even more mysterious. Keith is trying to rationalise the use of X and turn it into a maths problem. Frayn uses the boy’s naivety well to portray the use of x in different ways. The x comes back in yet another form when Frayn uses it more subtly as a kiss’She’s bending over him to kiss him goodnight, her brown eyes shining, her lips pursed into an X…
‘ Stephen is still very much unaware of the meaning of what x is and so Frayn uses it very well to symbolise the unknown.Another symbol that is frequently mentioned throughout the novel is the privet. It is the place from where Stephen and Keith base their ‘investigations’. Frayn uses the growth of the privet bush as it symbolises Stephen’s growing maturity ‘It’s something quite harsh and coarse.
It reeks. It has a kind of sexual urgency to it’. The sexual urgency may reflect back to Barbara Berril and the kiss in the privet bush. It is clear that the bush is a source of dismay for Stephen as he tries to keep it hidden from the outside world ‘the source of all my unrest is this plain ordinary privet’ The language used causes an antithesis with ‘great’ clashing with ‘plain ordinary’One of the most ironic things about the privet is that it also symbolises Stephen and Keith’s naivety as neither of them know what it means or even how to spell it ‘PRIVET””Very thoughtful of you chaps to put that label on it” she says indicating the tile guarding the entrance passageway “privet”‘”Oh I see!” she says “Private! How priceless”‘ this moment of embarrassment occurs when Stephen is lonely and vulnerable in the privet and Keith’s mother comes over to question him. Frayn also uses the privet to symbolise Keith’s maturity growing at a faster rate than Stephens as it is he who comes to the true meaning of the privet and what it is and means ‘Privet does mean something, I realise’ This is one of the key moments in the novel as it is Keith realising his childish mistake of accusing his mother of being a German spy is completely unfounded.
Stephen however takes longer to come to this realisation but it is once again the privet that symbolises this ‘but something has changed about the perfume of the air in the lookout’ Stephens’s realisation that Mrs Hayward is not a spy after all is one of the dramatic points in the story.Germs and Germans us one of the most commonly used symbols in the novel as the whole plot is based around Keith and Stephen’s assumption that Keith’s mother is a German spy. Once the boys start the fascination of Keith’s mother Frayn uses it as a symbol of Stephens desire to be on the same level as Keith, to the extent that he tries to persuade Keith that his father is a German spy ‘Anyway, my fathers a German spy too’ however this pathetic attempt to impress Keith fails’. Throughout the novel germs themselves are heavily linked with Germans as Stephen sees both of them as filthy and disgusting ‘Even if people kissed people in the blackout they certainly didn’t kissed germ-laden Germans’ Frayn uses Stephen’s fear of germs to express his hatred of Germans throughout the entire novel ‘Lavatories of some sort and of some particular disgusting sort that’s full of germs’ this is not only a typical example of Stephen’s hatred of germs but is a clever reference back to the confusions between a privee and a privet.Stephen’s fear of germs is at its most extreme level when he is back in the privet alone with Barbara Berril when Barbara is mocking Stephen ‘she puts it between and pretends to smoke it giggling “you’ll get germs!” I cry shocked and when she goes as far as planting a kiss in his lips all he can think about is that which his life has been revolved around, germs and Germans ‘I hadn’t really got round to thinking about whether it was nice or not I was to busy thinking about germs.