Secrets by Bernard MacLaverty
In Secrets by Bernard MacLaverty we have the theme of curiosity, letting go, guilt, love, innocence and forgiveness. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that MacLaverty may be exploring the theme of curiosity. Though the boy (doing his ‘A’ levels) knows that he is not allowed to read his Aunt’s personal letters he still nonetheless does so. His curiosity getting the better of him. It is also through the boy’s curiosity that the reader gets an insight into the boy’s Aunt’s life. How she may have once loved a soldier called John. However John while recuperating in hospital during the war chose to follow a religious path (Brother Benignus). There is also a sense that the Aunt has never let go of John. Something that becomes clearer to the reader by the fact that the Aunt has still kept all of John’s letters and postcards. There is no mention of any other letters from any other individuals which suggests just how important John was to the boy’s Aunt. She was a young woman who was very much in love with John. Though he chose a different path. A path that he most likely hoped would bring him closer to God after all the atrocities he had witnessed during the war.
There is also a sense that the boy despite the passing of time and his Aunt’s death still feels guilty about having invaded his Aunt’s privacy. Something that is noticeable at the end of the story when the boy is crying and hoping that his Aunt can forgive him for his actions. This longing for forgiveness may be important as it suggests that the boy knows that he has done something wrong. At the time he may not have felt that reading his Aunt’s personal letters might be wrong which is understandable when the reader considers that the boy was young and curious. He wasn’t to know that the woman who read him stories when he was younger was also a woman who had the capacity to love a man and to keep it secret all her life. In reality the Aunt was a very private person. She attended Church and spent her time at home. To an outsider she would look like no more than an old woman who was religious. It wouldn’t seem possible to others (and to the boy when he was younger) that she may have fallen in love with someone.
MacLaverty may also be exploring the theme of innocence. Though the reader never knows how old the boy was when he read his Aunt’s letters. There is a sense that there was a loss of innocence after his Aunt struck him on the face. No longer was their relationship the same. Something that is clear to the reader by the fact that the Aunt tells the boy she will never forget what he has done. Their relationship has been reshaped due to the boy’s curiosity. Though it may feel as though the boy is being severely punished the other side of the coin suggests just how important the letters were to the Aunt. Nobody, including the boy, were allowed to read them. The boy has also seen another side of his Aunt that he had previously not imagined. It might also be important that the boy allows his mother to burn the letters without taking them from her. This suggests that the boy has learnt a lesson. That he knows that the contents of the letters are private and not for him to read again. Where many people on an individual’s death might read a person’s letters. This is not the case in the story. The boy is no longer curious. Though he does ask who Brother Benignus was. Which might suggest that there is still a part of the boy who would like to know more about his Aunt. Though he is not intrusive enough to read the letters again to see if he can find out who Brother Benignus is.
The end of the story is also interesting as the boy breaks down crying, hoping that his Aunt forgives him for his actions when he was younger. It is difficult to say as to whether the Aunt has forgiven the boy but what is noticeable is that despite the passing of time the boy has not forgiven himself. In reality he was a young boy who was curious about his Aunt’s life. He was not to know just how private his Aunt wanted to keep her past. Yet the boy is unable to forgive himself. Which may suggest that the boy truly loved his Aunt and respected her. Though on one occasion (reading the letters) he may have unknowingly at the time went a step too far. In reality the boy can’t be blamed for his actions due to his young age. Every young boy (and girl) has a curious streak. Though on this occasion the boy’s curiosity when he was younger has left a lasting impression on his life. He will never know anything more about his Aunt which may be the point that MacLaverty is attempting to make. MacLaverty may be suggesting that we all have aspects in our life that we wish to keep private. Parts of ourselves that might hurt us or that we wish had turned out differently and that we like the Aunt in the story can never let go of.