Secrets by Bernard MacLaverty

Secrets - Bernard MacLavertyIn 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.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Secrets by Bernard MacLaverty." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 13 Sep. 2017. Web.


  • Helped me bro

  • Good job M8 it helped me study for my exams

  • Very well developed analysis of the circumstances presented in the story. Well done, thank you for the pleasant read.

  • This really helped me out.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Jeff. I’m glad that you found the post helpful.

      • Can u pls tell me the symbols and literary devices used in this story

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Thanks for the comment Anish. MacLaverty appears to be using the stamps and letters as symbolism. They represent one thing to the boy (stamps for his collection). However for his Aunt they represent a lost love and a ever lasting connection to John (Brother Benignus). Also the fact that the boy is doing his A levels may be symbolically important as it suggests he is still learning just as he is learning more about his Aunt. The bureau bookcase is also symbolic of the past and the Aunt’s relationship with John.

          One noticeable literary device used by MacLaverty is a simile. When describing the Aunts hair when she was younger it is described as being like a ‘knotted rope.’ Similarly in the picture by the beach the bucket hats on the girls head are described as being like ‘German helmets.’

          • thank you so much….are there any more literary devices which are in this story?

            • Dermot (Post Author)

              MacLaverty also uses metaphors. An example of this is in one of John’s letters to the Aunt. He says ‘when we swam the last two fingers of your hand went the colour and texture of candles with the cold.’

  • What are the themes used in Secrets?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Rohan. The central theme is love with there being sub themes of curiosity, letting go, guilt, innocence and forgiveness.

  • Great work! Any thoughts about her cameo ring, and what that might symbolism?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Adrian. I’m not sure about the cameo ring. Perhaps Mary wore it as a sign of her commitment to John.

  • Any evidences how MacLaverty shows the strength of the love relationship between John and Mary ?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Chohan. The fact that Mary has still kept every letter from John despite the passing of time would suggest that there was strength in her love for John. Time has not lessened how she feels for him. Also the secrecy behind the letters suggests that Mary feels that her relationship with John is so personal that it is only for her and John. They have a strong and deep bond that nobody can come between.

  • Do you know how war was portrayed by the letters in the story? How could it be significant?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Ameer. MacLaverty uses the letters to not only highlight to the reader how deeply in love with Mary John is but as readers we also get an insight into the effect of the war on John. One letter in particular stands out. When John tells Mary about the dead soldiers that are lying around him. The reader senses just how traumatic the position is that John finds himself in. Just as he is struggling to be apart from Mary. He is also struggling to accept what is happening in the war.

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