‘Spies’ is set in wartime Britain when expectations of gender roles and behaviours were fixed. Men were expected to be heroic fighting for their country, brave, bold, and hardworking.
Women were expected to be faithful while their husbands were away fighting and good nurturing mothers. But this novel portrays the realities of World War Britain in a suburban setting.The gender roles for men and women were binary oppositions and in the book they are portrayed as different species altogether.As Stephens identity in the book is gradually sorted as he grows and understands so does his perception of reality which allows the reader to see things are not as they originally appear and the stereotypes aren’t a reality.
The adult males in the book ‘Uncle Peter’ and ‘Ted Hayward’ are both supposed to be ‘war-heroes’ however Ted stays at home and doesn’t fight but is seemingly paranoid as he removes the car wheels and ‘keeps the nuts in his bed-side drawer.’ This is hardly heroic or regular behaviour, he also can’t spend much time with his wife or son like a stereotypical husband should, this is made obvious as he was always ‘busy’ and only ‘three exclamation marks’ in Mrs. Hayward’s diary. He also doesn’t appear to be very rational or valiant as he would have been expected to be as it was hinted he cut his wives throat ‘taken to wearing a cravat pinned high around her neck.
‘Uncle Peter was a fighter-pilot which was most highly looked upon army career. In his photographs he was handsome and certainly a stereotypical war hero at the beginning. But as Stephen looks further into his past he is a deserter and Stephen thinks he’s an ‘old tramp and a German’ This is an example of Stephens preconceptions, Germans are bad therefore this ‘tramp’ must be German as he’s hiding. Uncle Peter is a strong example of Frayn showing that gender roles and behaviours can’t be fixed as feelings and emotions get in the way.
Stephens father who should be ‘bad’ as he’s German is actually good and helping the English which contradicts with Uncle Peter who escaped from helping his country for his personal interests.The adult females in the book are portrayed with very separate lives from the males except Uncle Peter and Mrs.Hayward as Uncle Peter depends on Mrs.Hayward who risks her marriage for him.
Originally Mrs.Hayward is described as ‘calm, composed’ with ‘perfectly arched eyebrows ‘and she follows all the ‘guidelines’ for a perfect wife. She was never rushed or untidy, she mothered Keith and did the ‘shopping’ and made sure everything was in order. But as the story unfolds it is found her stereotypical behaviour is only a front while she sees her sister’s husband.
She even has to rely on a child Stephen to make sure her secret is kept as she does this he realises she isn’t who she seems ‘the perfection she arrived with has become blurred’.Auntie Dee, Mrs.Haywards sister is originally shown as a ‘rushed’, ‘tired’ woman left to look after her daughter Molly. She needs Mrs.
Hayward to do her shopping for her, but she in her own way fits the gender role better than her sister at the end of the novel. She doesn’t cheat she remains loyal, she stays at home and looks after her daughter and does everything around the house. So although she hasn’t got the appearance she has the gender role lifestyle.The children in ‘Spies’ gender roles and stereotypes are similar to that of the adults but the boys have certain rules about ‘girlish things’ and girls.
The genders as children are a lot more opposite and separate than the adults on the surface but in reality in the lives of ‘the Close’ they are the same.Keith is a tidy, wealthy, upper class boy with upper class standards and he needs Stephen so he can have his ‘superiority.’ But both Stephen and Keith play games and use their imaginations to make the stereotypes at the time for example they discover the ‘Juice at Trennwick,’ the ‘railway’ and the secret path the Juice use. Even their stories match the stereotypes as Keith believes his father to be a war hero and they have their almost sacred ‘bayonet’ to prove it.
The also stick to the ‘manly’ rules of not playing with girls ‘offends me almost as much as her intrusion’.Keith also copies his father and cuts Stephens neck when he believes he betrayed him, Keith is following the stereotypical here that men shouldn’t betray one-another.Although the boys (mostly Keith) don’t want anything to do with Barbara Berrill she’s not as immature and ‘girlish’ as they believe ‘girls are supposed to be’. She is just as excited about joining in with the spying ‘shall we follow her?’ as Stephen.
She also is much more aware of the adults behaviour than the boys could under stand ‘mummy has a boyfriend’ she actually introduces Stephen to the reality that gender roles and stereotypes aren’t really happening. Stephen is also very aware of her, which in a boy’s stereotypical world is bad as he notices the ‘little hairs on her legs’ and her ‘purse’ when it’s against the rules to talk to the opposite sex. Stephen begins to understand with her that preconceptions of the adult world aren’t all true and the men and women don’t act how they should.To conclude Frayn presents gender in ‘Spies’ to be in two separate worlds or male and female and reality and stereotypes.
Gender is used to show how the populous acted in the wartime wasn’t the way they were expected to act, gender roles and the roles in reality were and still are two separate worlds.