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The
Go-Between was first published in 1953 by the famous
novelist, L. P. Hartley and received the Heinemann Foundation Prize of the
Royal Society of Literature in 1954, later on, it was made into a successful
film (Hartley, 1953). The novel is fictional with main ideas focusing on memory
and the past events that have happened in the main protagonist, Leo Colston’s
life. L.P Hartley uses double narrative to portray the memories; the young
Leo’s actions told by the older Leo along with describing how the actions
affected his life in present time. In this essay, I will explore how the types
of narrative effect the history, such as, when older Leo is recalling memories
and if it may affect the legitimacy of the information explained

In the opening of the prologue in the novel The Go-Between, the past is already
mentioned in the first line; “The past is a foreign country they do things
differently there.” (Page 5, The
Go-Between) Whilst the narrative carries on to speak in the first person;
describing to the reader Leo Colston’s childhood and reminiscing about the
past, already, the reader has a preconceived idea that the past will play an
important role and will most likely have an effect on the history that is
recalled. However, we may question the validity of Leo Colston’s memory as he
is reciting the story for the first time since being a young boy, which was
when the story actually happened. L.P Hartley has set out the narrative as such
to emphasise how much of an effect that particular summer had on Leo’s life and
how the diary he has found is proving difficult to read, almost foreshadowing
the negative impacts that we will read about later on in the novel. Evidence
that supports the idea that the history he is remembering has evidently had
such an adverse, negative impression, so much so that Leo “did not want to
touch it” (Page 5, The Go-Between),
‘it’ being the diary of his fifteen-year-old self. Leo cannot bring himself to
pick the diary up straight away, which also allows Hartley to build up suspense
as refraining from telling the reader straight away why Leo will not open the
diary entices us as readers even more. Describing the inanimate diary as
something almost supernatural and alive, for example; “It seemed to me that
every object in the room exhaled the diary’s enervating power,” (Page 6, The Go-Between) connotes unease with the
narrative voice, Leo is clearly starting to remember what he has written and as
it is making him feel uncomfortable, that feeling is also passed across to the
reader. Using the adverb ‘enervating’ to describe a diary gives off the
impression that Leo is unstable, feeling as though an inanimate object is
draining you also supports the idea that whatever is in that diary has really
traumatised him.

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Finally, when Leo builds up his courage to open the
diary, he does so in a way that is extremely overdramatic; “So I told myself,
and with a gesture born of will, as most of my acts were, not inclination, I
took the diary out of the box and opened it.” (Page 7, The Go-Between) Leo is building himself up to be a brave character,
making this task out to be extremely difficult when in reality Leo just comes
across as quite cowardly instead. Leo spends a long time describing each of the
zodiac signs the diary has depicted “each somehow contriving to suggest a
plenitude of life and power, each glorious.” (Page 7, The Go-Between). This allows Leo to feel as if he is a part of a
different world, escaping his reality and giving him a glimpse into this godly
world he has imagined. Although Leo has finally opened the diary, we as readers
still feel agitated as Hartley is purposefully prolonging the telling of the
story that left Leo in such a state. Leo mentions he “remembered the
catastrophe well enough, but not the stages that led up to it,” (Page 9, The Go-Between) being careful not to
give anything away, he rambles on about his school life and getting bullied all
to add to Leo as a character and the ultimate reason as to why he has become so
troubled in later life. Not only does this build the character of Leo’s older
self but also gives an insight into him as a child, Leo and the reader are
almost meeting his former self for the first time as he has not come back to
this time in his life since the ‘catastrophe’ happened. As well as character
building, Hartley allows the reader an insight into the strange relationship
Leo had with his diary as he treats it like a person and a friend. From getting
bullied to cursing the classmates who did pick on him from early on we can see
Leo becoming an outsider. Furthermore, we as readers find Leo even more
illegitimate and really start to distrust him. The facts he has given become
questionable when he specifically highlights that he only remembers parts of
the story; “that is how I remember the day – in snatches” (Page 110, The Go-Between). The word ‘snatches’ in
itself is a harsh noun, connoting short glimpses, and although Leo has his
diary to reference it is easily shown that he is struggling with his memory.
Hartley is really trying to stress the adverse effects that were the result of
being a ‘go-between’.

Writing as though young Leo is there with us gives a
sense of immediacy, using pronouns such as ‘I’ and adverbs that are in the
present tense support this; “the men of the party were rather self-consciously
and trooped out… I tried to look as though I was passing the door by accident,”
The constant flashbacks intertwined with older Leo’s current thoughts allows
Hartley to link the different scenarios in young Leo’s life to the struggles
that have resulted because of them. Due to the fact Leo has repeatedly said
throughout the novel that he is lonely as well as reading his diary on his own,
we as readers feel like we are almost trespassing in on his thoughts and feelings.
Leo Coulson opens up about himself to an extent where it makes the reader
uncomfortable, specifically when Leo talks about how the death of Ted the
farmer has prevented him from pursuing any romantic relationships with women
for his whole life. A sense of embarrassment is the basis of the history that
he is recalling, the naivety of young Leo Coulson, eager to impress is strongly
emphasised; “my fantasy of myself as Robin Hood and his sister as Maid Marian”
(Page 113 The Go-Between) His
obsession with being a hero in his own imaginary world is what leads Leo to be
easily manipulated by the two lovers. A young impressionable boy who has been
thrown into a prominent class divided forbidden love the discovery of sexuality and of
the grown-ups world of a teenage boy, the loss of his innocence. Leo is sexually
and emotionally scarred by his summer experience. At the end of the book, he
has turned into an emotionally hollow adult who “didn’t remember… And didn’t
want to” regarding the stories that took place. 

Chapter nine, specifically the beginning paragraph,
helps the plot of The Go-Between
intensify as it is the chapter where Leo Coulson and Ted Burgess start to
really build a strong relationship, here it makes it more believable when Leo
is describing it as we realise that he is recalling it still, Ted has still
left an impression on older Leo and making him remember the feelings as an
adult creates sympathy from the readers. Here we start to get emotionally
invested in this particular friendship as it almost feels as if we are
eavesdropping in between two friends. Hartley has done this to make it more of
a shock factor for when Ted commits suicide in a later chapter. The strong uses
of rhetorical devices contribute to The Go-Between
as a novel, giving it a deeper meaning and pulling at the heartstrings of its
readers as well as the small jokes that are developed between the two; “‘No
blood on this one,’ he said humorously” (Page 94 The Go-Between). In addition, the constant portrayal of Ted being
related to nature throughout the novel symbolises his personality “he was
usually working in the harvest Fields,” emphasise how ‘down to earth’ and
natural Ted is, as a person he is not artificial. Hartley is trying hard to
make the reader like Ted, portraying him mainly as a victim to a capitalist
society, foreshadowing what will be the reason he commits suicide; because of
his class. This allows not only Leo to build a strong relationship with Ted but
also us as readers develop strong emotions. Conflicting views are prominent
when The first time we as readers are introduced to a weapon and when it is
mentioned; when Ted is seen “standing with his gun waiting for the
rabbits,” (Page 93 The Go-Between)
Hartley is made it so the readers notice it before Leo does as it allows us to
interpret Leo’s reactions and understand his emotions when he comes to the
realisation that that particular weapon ends his close friends life. Moreover,
this derisive imagery is followed by an almost ironic reading, Leo describes
Ted as being the “colour of corn between red and gold” (Page 92 The Go-Between) this oxymoron between
the two colours, ‘red’ connoting danger and anger whilst ‘gold’ connotes
richness and is usually used to describe the sun or later on in the chapter a
description of “Golden afternoons” (Page 94 The
Go-Between). The suggestion that Ted is ‘in-between’ the two colours
suggests ambiguity, his life is not simple and will not end easily, blatantly
foreshadowing what happens to him.

Hartley chose the years in the 1900’s to build up his
setting because he wants to highlight the fact that Older Leo believes he is
living “in a year of great promise”. The novel is centred with Leo’s youthful
disillusionment, which the reader would have expected not to be passed on
through history, but however finds Leo’s fantasies to still be prominent in his
later life, he is still hanging on to the chances that he, himself, can escape
into the world he imagined as a kid. Leo never had the chance to grow up due to
the ending of Ted’s life, “His fate I did know, and it was for him I grieved.
He haunted me.” (Page 245 The Go-Between)
Using the word ‘haunted’ connotes something supernatural, this adjective really
stresses the preoccupation Leo’s mind has had and his memories. Moreover, Leo
describes “his blood and brains stuck to the kitchen walls,” (Page 246 The Go-Between) this disgusting imagery
gives a small insight to how Leo’s emotions are taking over, his way of
grieving has mentally broken him to an extent where the idea of Ted cleaning
his gun “to shoot himself with was a special torment,” (Page 246 The Go-Between) Immediately changing the
whole atmosphere to an uncomfortable one as the reader is able to see what Leo
does. 

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