In Hartley’s The Go-Between, lower-class Ted, a major character takes his life following a passionate affair with upper class Marian, at Brandham Hall in the year 1900.
Ted’s suicide could be judged as a cowardly act. However, Hartley has given the reader evidence to prove that Ted is a very strong and heroic character in this novel.
Hartley explores the difficult path of the love between Marian and Ted against the strict social background of 1900 England.
In the ‘garden of Eden’ setting of Brandham Hall, Hartley tells the story through the eyes of an innocent 12-year-old boy, Leo, who discovers the importance of class distinctions in the hot summer of 1900. In the resulting loss of innocence, Leo discovers the true nature of the relationship between central characters Ted and Marian, and the lives of all the people at Brandham Hall are changed forever.
The reader is first introduced to Ted at the swimming hole. This is important to the decision of Ted’s cowardliness as we are given a very strong physical description of him. The following description persuades the reader that Ted epitomizes strength. He is not weak and therefore not a coward.
“… it was Ted Burgess clinging to the post, hauling himself out. His
muscles bunched, his face tense with effort. He did not see me, and
I retreated almost in tear before that powerful body.” (Pg 63)
Hartley successfully uses symbolism to convey the idea that Ted is a strong man. At the beginning of the novel, young Leo is marveling over the zodiac signs which decorate his diary. He is unsure of which sign he would like to be: the water carrier or the archer. Throughout the novel, Leo makes connections with Ted and the water carrier. He describes the water carrier as “strong and sturdy”.
“Striding across the farmyard came the farmer, a pail of water in
each hand. I remembered him; it was Ted Burgess of the swimming
pool.” (Pg 85)
Ted is also described by Hartley as a grim reaper. The grim reaper is a man that personifies death as an old man or skeleton carrying a scythe. This again gives the reader a virile impression of Ted and not a gutless one.
“It wasn’t difficult to find him, for he was usually working in the
harvest fields on the far side of the river; from the sluice
platform I could see where he was. The first time I went he was
riding the reaper, a new fangled machine which cut the corn but
did not bind it.”
Hartley used a gun as another symbol. This symbol was crucial to the deeper understanding of main character, Ted. Ted actually describes himself as “a pretty good shot”. Guns are a symbol of strength, a symbol of power. They are designed purely to injure or kill.
There are a few references during the novel about Ted and his gun, as well as these weapons in general.
“He was standing with his gun watching for the rabbits and
other creatures, which clung to their shelter till the last moment
before bolting out.” (Pg 109)
“He was sitting on a chair behind the table with a gun between
his knees so absorbed that he didn’t hear me. The muzzle was
just below his mouth, the barrel was pressed against his naked
chest, and he was peering down it.” (Pg 186)
These descriptions of Ted and his gun are very important to the reader because it gives us the understanding that Ted is comfortable around this weapons and he has access to one. The reader is less surprised when we learn that Ted has shot himself.
Throughout the novel, Leo visits Ted at Black Farm to deliver messages from Marian. Ted is defined by his
The description of Ted’s house and some dialogue helps the reader to assume that Ted is physically and mentally resilient. This man is no coward.
“We entered the house, which struck me as a mean abode,
through a door that led straight into the kitchen.
‘This is where I mostly live,’ he said defensively, ‘I’m not
what you call a gentleman farmer. I’m a working one.'”
Ted is physically strong but also mentally tough too. From the beginning, the reader learns that Ted knows exactly where he fits in the social class structure of 1900 England. This is shown when Leo trespasses visits Ted’s farm.
” ‘What the devil-!’ he began, and his red-brown eyes
sparkled with angry lights. ‘What the hell do you think
you’re doing here? I’ve a good mind to give you the
biggest thrashing you’ve ever had in your life.”
As soon as Ted realises that Leo is staying at the tone completely changes and he apologises to Leo.
” ‘You mustn’t mind if I spoke to you a bit hasty. That’s
the way I am, and these old boys round here they drive
me half demented.
I did not despise him for changing his tune when he knew
where I came from: it seemed to me right, natural and
proper that he should.”
The acceptance of Ted’s position in society is very important to the development of his character. We understand that Ted is not resentful of where he stands but compliant. This is crucial to the understanding Ted’s suicide. He realises that Marian will never marry him. He would rather die than watch Lord Trimingham live a life with Marian. This is not cowardice, but acceptance.
Ted’s suicide could be described as cowardly. However, Hartley has given the reader enough evidence to suggest otherwise. Ted is compared to strong characters such as the water carrier and the grim reaper. He is initially described as being very physically strong and attractive at the water hole. Ted has a knowledge and love of guns, they make him feel virile. Ted is very intelligent. He realises where he stands in society and is accepting of this. He understands that Marian will never marry him because society will not accept it. Ultimately, Ted killed himself out of love for Marian. He didn’t want to live a life that would not include Marian. Ted is not a coward but simply head-over-heels in love.