Essay - "Secrets" by Bernard MacLaverty

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
SORRY about the break and space free but blame booksie ;/

Submitted: December 21, 2009

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Submitted: December 21, 2009

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This essay is written on a short story by Bernard MacLaverty called “Secrets”. I will explore on the way the author conveyed loss and suffering as the main themes of the story. “Secrets” helped me to understand how easily life can change instantly : from possession to loss; happiness to suffering.

The story “Secrets” is written in a form of a flashback and as it progresses, it introduces the reader to the story’s protagonists: Aunt Mary and ‘the boy’. At the beginning of the story, the author introduces the dying aunt Mary and her nephew she seems distant from. The author then creates a flashback that progressively explains the reason behind the boy’s and aunt’s cold relations. The reader also discovers how the central characters were not always on distant terms, but that they used to share a very close bond. After aunt Mary dies, the boy remembers moments of childhood he shared with aunt Mary, how he betrayed her trust and how aunt Mary never forgave him. Throughout the plot of the tale, the reader is brought in to the themes of loss and suffering.

In the beginning of the story, Bernard MacLaverty introduces the reader to the death of aunt Mary. In this the author partially reveals a portion of aunt Mary’s character. “ She lost all the dignity he knew her to have“ This description is provided by aunt Mary’s nephew. ‘She lost’ symbolises loss and ‘dignity’ suggests aunt Mary’s dignified, natural grace she had before her death. This means that during her death, she lost something very important to her as her nature. She was exposed to the public ‘at her worst’ which proves aunt Mary’s suffering and loss of dignity she treasured. This arouses sympathy towards aunt Mary within me as I find it difficult to imagine the suffering she experiences after losing all she craved in life. Aunt Mary is a very proud person by nature. Her propriety is her fulfilment. “Someone said about her teeth and his mother leaned over her and said ‘That’s the pet’” Aunt Mary found herself incapable of keeping her dignity on her deathbed and she was sentences to receive help from her relatives. To somebody as content and proper as herself, it’s a torture to be uncover ‘at one’s worse’ publicly ; this caused her suffering. To hear such words of sympathy as ‘pet’ that are normally addressed to a child caused loss in aunt Mary. This inspired pity within me because, as the reader, I could feel the torment aunt Mary was experiencing.

After the death of aunt Mary, the author lets the reader into the ‘secrets’ of the story. He does that by creating a flashback that explains the relationship between the boy and his aunt. “ She would sit with him on her knee, her arms around him and holding the page flat with her hand” This recall lefts the reader shocked with contrast when compared to the cold relations the boy and his aunt shared at the time of her death. This flashback is useful in conveying the themes of suffering and los as it uncovers the idea of how things used to be different in the past. Realising how things in life can change from hopeful to hopeless in an instant , as they did eventually turn out for the aunt’s and her nephew‘s relationship, make me feel apologetic. Bernard MacLaverty’s use of flashback was well thought out as it uncovered the hidden ‘secrets’ in a diverse order from what they happened in. This captivates the reader into remaining engaged in the story. “The girl in the photograph was young and had dark, dark hair scraped severely back and tired like a knotted rope on the top of her head - high arched eyebrows, her nose straight and thin, her mouth slightly smiling, yet not smiling” This description of young aunt Mary , in contrast with her later appearance leaves a feeling of loss she must had felt at the loss of her beauty. It had been made clear that aunt Mary’s dignity was something adopted by her very early in her life and it never left her. This had been pronounced by how the author described her intriguing smile. I have sympathy towards aunt Mary as I can see the loss she felt everyday when observing her face aging in the mirror.

Aunt Mary and her nephew had once shared a close connection. “The boy had noticed the ring when she had read to him as a child” The fact she had read to him as a child in the first place proves their attachment. This is impressive as her nephew is the only person she had a close relationship with. This shows that the boy was the one exception to her isolation. I think that aunt Mary wanted to try to finally be able to lay her trust in somebody. However, a day came when boy’s childish curiosity took over and made him uncover aunt Mary’s private correspondence that was her ‘secret’. “ Anything else, yes! That section, No! “ Aunt Mary’s warning shows her commitment for the privacy she treasured. She was certain that a warning would be enough to discourage her nephew from revealing her ‘secret’. I regard aunt Mary for finally taking a chance at trusting somebody. However, she was soon let down as during her absence her nephew read the majority of her private correspondence she exchanged with the man she loved. This was the ‘secret’ she protected. The boy had been caught reading her letters soon after he heard his aunt approaching. “ ‘You are dirt’ she hissed, ’and always will be dirt. I shall remember this till the day I die’ “ Aunt Mary had taken this situation very seriously as it was something very personal to her and her trust had been let down as soon as it was given. Here aunt Mary faces loss of her privacy been taken away from her. She had promised to remember this until the day she dies and the fact she kept her promise shows commitment to her promises. Referring to a boy as ‘dirt’ suggests how despite the boy being only a small child, she does not have limits in accusing him of a crime of a lifetime. In my opinion, aunt Mary had approached her punishment and judgement too seriously because she forgot that she was dealing with a small child that should be forgiven.

Aunt Mary was very moral and by obeying the old rules of propriety she lived by , she expected everyone else around her to be as dignified as she herself had been. She was mistaken in assuming that a small child like her nephew would not be tempted into doing something forbidden. “ ‘You have been reading my letters’. The boy could say nothing. She struck him across the side of the face.“ The reader can see that the boy feels guilty and ashamed as he could say nothing. Aunt Mary slapping the boy across the face represents her anger and punishment. I think that aunt Mary had overdone her penalizing because a child can not be expected to obey a forbidden ban. In my opinion the boy does not get what he deserves because his reactions prove his pity and shame: he can not find words to defend himself. “ The boy, the side of his face stinging and red, put the keys on the table on his way out. “ Boy’s awkwardness suggests his shame; his defence was destroyed but he would not want to defend himself in the first place because he well knew he was guilty. I detect boy’s suffering because he had unemotionally caused aunt Mary suffering and pain. From then onwards, the boy considered his own fault and aunt Mary’s secret as his own .

Bernard MacLaverty takes the reader back to the presence after the ‘secrets’ of the protagonists had been revealed. The boy had spoken with his mother after the passing of his aunt Mary’s personal things. “She took off the elastic band and put it to one side with the useful things and began dealing the envelopes into the fire. She opened one and read quickly through it, then threw it on top of the burning pile “ Boy’s mother had been burning aunt Mary’s correspondence to protect the privacy she protected during her life. However , ‘she read quickly through it’ means that even boy’s mother wanted to peak into the big secret. The burning of the letters had a symbolic act, as if, along with aunt Mary, died her secret. Boy’s guilt never left him ,therefore, in the end, he must have hoped that at the hour of death, aunt Mary would forgive him. Therefore, he was hoping his aunt would not keep her promise after all. “ Did aunt Mary say anything about me? “ Here the reader sees the suffering the boy have felt for all these years , and all because of something he did as a child. I feel sympathy towards the boy who came to carry this burden he gained so long ago, unintentionally.

The short story “Secrets” by Bernard MacLaverty helped me to understand many things that before were strangers to me. Until, I read this story, I never would have thought that people like aunt Mary still exist. This is because her overwhelming commitment and living her life in the past seem very difficult to maintain for such a long time. Also, her never-get-over things style has impressed me as I myself would find it challenging to hold grudges for as long as she did. This story also got to me through its main themes of loss and suffering because these emotions did not only affect the protagonists of the story, but also the reader. In my opinion, the events of the story are very humane and life taken as they expose the faults of human nature. After reading this tale, I feel like being more careful with my actions towards the people I live with, as I never can be sure if an unintended action would not end in a grudge held argument of a lifetime.








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