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Spies - Themes

Theme 1: Imagination

Imagination is the driving force behind Spies and it is closely tied to memory. The whole
story is based upon the two boys' perception that Mrs Hayward is a spy but this is a figment
of their imagination which they choose to act upon. The older Stephen describes Keith's
belief that his mother is a spy as 'a blind leap of pure fantasy'. However, he does recognise
that Keith's belief could be based upon intuition because his mother does indeed have
something to hide.

Both Keith and Stephen have active imaginations but they are active in different

Keith come up with schemes and explanations that may him look clever.
Stephen's imagination is so vivid that he forsees what might be the consequences
of actions. These consequences are often completely terrifying for Stephen. The
most frightening is his vision of himself in a coffin. However, the whole narrative has
lots of small, imagined scenarios - he sees Uncle Peter's death ('the passing trains
cutting him to pieces'), he imagines Mrs Hayward sending Morse code messages
and Uncle Peter coming home to find Auntie Dee has been arrested as a spy.
Sometimes the imagined scenarios are presented in the same voice as the real
story so we don't know that they aren't real until later ('She's a German spy" I
explain. No I don't say the words. Do I?". This blurs the distinction between reality
and what is imagined and reminds us that we are relying on Stefan's memory which
is shaky (thus the link between imagination and memory).

Stephen's imagination extends to all his senses too.

He feels the coffin pressing down on him.

When he imagines about the kisses Auntie Dee may have exchanged with a lover,
he says that they 'lingered like a faint scent in the air'.

Theme 2: Memory

The story of Spies is prompted by an unsolicited memory (the smell of the privet leads
Stefan to visit the scene of his childhood to work out why the scent is so evocative for him).
Events are then reconstructed around this memory.
Sense memories are vivid throughout the novel.

When Stefan has difficulty in recalling events, he can often remember how things
felt, looked, smelled or sounded. His memory covered all five senses. For example,
when he is recalled tea at Keith's house, he remembers "I tasted the chocolate
spread on the thick plank of bread" and the feel of the diamond pattern on the glass
tumblers of lemon barley.
Stefan's sense memories are based on interior feelings as well as external stimuli.
For example, in the hideout "his knees ache from crouching".

Stefan sometimes has to piece memories together like a jigsaw puzzle

His memories provide lots of clues to what happened and Stefan has to act like a
detective to piece them altogether. For example, he remembers that there is apple
blossom so therefore events must have happened in early summer. He remembers
that the wind blew the beaded cover on the jug of lemonade and therefore assumes
that he must have been outside.
This gives the impression that the story may not be absolutely as it happened but it
is the best reconstruction of what has happened based on fragmented memories.

Stefan struggles to remember what he thought, what he felt and what he understood
as a child

He can often remember what happened but he can't recall why it happened or what
motivated people to act in that way. He can recall the action but not his own inner
emotions or those of other people.