How does the writer make the following character particularly memorable?

Aunt Mary in Secrets (by Bernard MacLaverty)

In Secrets, the character of Aunt Mary is introduced as a dignified, proud, and rather reserved lady. Her unique display of strength and resilience, as well as her mystery and secretive nature, makes her a very memorable character.

Through the use of imagery, Bernard MacLaverty provides subtle images that lends to Aunt Mary’s character, making her more memorable. Even the description of the irises, ‘withering from the tips inward, scrolling themselves delicately, brown and neat’, reflect Aunt Mary’s character. The irises are a metaphor for Aunt Mary herself- they are dying, slowly withering- but are ‘clearing up after themselves’. Like Aunt Mary, they refuse to show any sign of weakness, refuse to let anyone pity them for their fate. The words ‘delicate’ and ‘neat’ indicate the meticulous and orderly fashion in which Aunt Mary leads her life, asserting that she is a very down-to-earth and straightforward woman. Alternatively, the irises ‘scrolling’ ‘inwards’ could indicate her secretive, reserved nature. This use of imagery accentuates the different facets of her personality, making her a memorable character.

As the protagonist of the story recalls the demise of his relationship with his Great Aunt Mary in the form of a flashback, we see the staunch stoicism and pride that lies at the core of Great Aunt Mary’s personality. With the typical burning curiosity of a young boy, the protagonist reads Aunt Mary’s letters, intruding on her privacy and ruining their relationship. Aunt Mary’s reaction to the boy’s trespass and violation of trust was very frightening- she ‘struck him across the side of the face’ and told him that he was dirt, ‘and always will be dirt’, as she will forever remember ‘till the day [she] die[s].’ She reacts violently to a small boy’s trespass- indicating her repudiation of the idea of anyone knowing about her ‘secret’- that is, her past lover. She likens him to ‘dirt’- triggering pejorative connotations of grime, mud, and worthless scum; a harsh word to be It also indicates the vulnerability, or the aversion of vulnerability, that Aunt Mary possesses. It is clear through the letters that she is susceptible to the touch of love, and she does not want anyone to know about this weakness, to avoid the pain of reliving memories, or to maintain her dignity and pride. The boy’s trespass is a violation of that very dignity that drives Aunt Mary as a character, although to the readers a boy’s overwhelming curiosity is not a crime worthy of severing of all relations. To hold such a grudge for the rest of her life is overly dramatic and shocking. Her dramatic reaction shocks us as readers, making her a very memorable character.

The death of Aunt Mary and the unexpected emotional toll it had on the protagonist also makes her memorable. Despite having been brusquely reprimanded all those years ago, and despite still not being forgiven, the protagonist cries over the death of his Aunt- ‘his maiden aunt, the teller of tales, that she might forgive him.’ He finally finds his personal redemption after her death and lets go of the guilt at having betrayed her all those years ago, asking her to forgive him. At this last part to the story, the love and concern that the protagonist has for his Aunt Mary is evident; and it is this love that makes his Aunt Mary memorable- much the opposite to seeing her as a petty and unforgiving old lady, we see her as a woman that has been wronged and been through much in her life. In the end, the essence of this story is depicted by the genuine emotions that ring throughout Secrets- which arise from the personal experiences of MacLaverty (as he also had a secretive Aunt Mary in his real life). The protagonist’s true emotions for Aunt Mary touch the reader, and etch Aunt Mary into our memories.

The pride, vulnerability, and mystery of Aunt Mary’s personality strikes the readers, portraying her as a truly memorable character.


5 responses to “Secrets

  1. I am very impressed by your credible revision notes .I challenged my students to borrow a leaf from you.

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