'The Go-Between' by L.P.Hartley - "It did not occur to me that they had treated me badly" - What Sympathy do you have for Leo in the Go-Between?

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Joanna Lowe        Page         Ms Pomeroy

‘The Go-Between’ by L.P.Hartley

“It did not occur to me that they had treated me badly”

What Sympathy do you have for Leo in the Go-Between?

        This essay is to assess how much sympathy is deserving of the young and naïve Leo Colston after being permanently emotionally damaged from a visit to a school friend in the country in the summer of 1900.

        The prologue acts as the introduction to the elder character of Leo Colston, a man in his sixties, and it is here that we are presented with the impact of his summer visit to Brandham Hall, over fifty years before. From the opening of the novel with “the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”, the reader is immediately made aware of the themes of past and of memory. Although these themes are initially conjured up, from the tone of narration, there is a much greater sense of distance and of being wistful. Not only is this sense of distance represented by the narrator talking in the past, but by the choice of grammar, “they” instead of “we” and “do” instead of “did”, suggesting that the past could be of a foreign nature, causing the reader to believe that memories have become foreign due to their burial deep in his mind from many years ago.  From this opening line, there is a distinct suggestion of an alienation of events that have occurred in the past, which have greatly affected Leo, and consequently he has attempted to block from his mind.

        The obvious choice by the author to set the story in the year 1900 was done so to convey the idea at the beginning of the novel that Leo believes he is entering a year of great promise. Due to the fact that the novel concerns Leo’s disillusionment and juvenile idealism, the choice of the new century provides the ideal setting for the story. When Leo is invited to spend the summer at Brandham Hall, it is as though he will experience the Golden Age after all. The fact that Leo has great hope of witnessing a “Golden Age” and has high expectations of the century only add to his downfall at the end of the summer.  This would evoke some sympathy from the reader as by having high expectations, Leo was undoubtedly going to be disappointed, but the fact that his expectations were so high makes the reader feel less understanding as he was only setting himself up for a fall.

        The prologue introduces the reader to Leo as a bitter, aged and lonely man, who has never quite recovered from the events of the summer of 1900. It is here that the reader is given an insight into the full damage done to Leo and how those events caused him to lead the desolate life that he has led. Due to the effect the events of that summer had on Leo, it is here that we see the full impact of them and how they have turned him from an enthusiastic, hopeful and proud adolescent, into a withdrawn and retiring old man, living a solitary life. This transformation is a drastic one and so proves to the audience that the aforementioned events of the summer of the year 1900 had a profound impact on the young and impressionable Leo, so much so that it changed him radically forever.

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The way in which the prologue informs the reader of how the older Leo has become reclusive and distant from society is made extremely apparent not only in the narration, but the tone of narration and the manner of the speaker. The tone of the prologue proves to be very melancholy and wistful to the extent that the reader gets the feeling that Leo wishes he could go back in time in hope of changing the events which caused him to become how he is now, “had it not been for the diary, or what the diary stood for, ...

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