Secrets, and Other Stories Questions and Answers
by Bernard MacLaverty

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In the short story "Secrets" by Bernard MacLaverty, how does the last paragraph help us to relate to the themes and plot of the story? What characteristics of the protagonist can be seen in the themes and the plot?

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the last paragraph of the short story "Secrets" by Bernard MacLaverty, the protagonist cries after his aunt has died. MacLaverty writes, "he cried silently into the crook of his arm for the woman who had been his maiden aunt, his teller of tales, that she might forgive him." In this paragraph, he shows remorse for having read his aunt's letters from her boyfriend, who became a priest after witnessing the horrors of war. In the end of the story, the protagonist thanks his aunt for being "a teller of tales," as she read classics such as Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations to him when he was little. She also exposed him to the greatest tale of all--the story of her long-ago love who became a priest and wrote her letters to explain his wartime experience and decision to be a priest. His reaction to her death shows that he is empathetic and is an appreciator of stories and literature. The themes of the story are the remorse the narrator feels for reading his aunt's secret letters, as well as the insights and maturation he gains from being privy to her secrets. 

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think the reason why your question has remained unanswered for a month or so is because you are too specific about the "last paragraph" idea.  Enotes educators won't do your assignment for you, but we can expand upon the ideas you need to understand in order to complete your assignment in the fullest.  Therefore, I will be specific about themes and plot, but general in regard to placement.  Then you can go back, read that last paragraph, and see how it relates.  For this reason, let's look at the more general thoughts in your question in regard to "the themes and plot of the story" and "the characteristics of the protagonist." 

First, let's look at the themes in the book: pain and loss.  Written as a flashback, "Secrets" is about the pain and loss associated with the death of Aunt Mary.  Aunt Mary, of course, is dying and has a very cold (if that) relationship with her nephew, "the boy."  The boy and the aunt used to be very close with each other until the boy's betrayal.  It is not all the boy's fault, however, in that Aunt Mary never forgave him for his betrayal.  The boy describes the loss of Aunt Mary's dignity:

[Through death] she lost all the dignity he knew her to have.

The suffering of Aunt Mary on her death bed is absolutely conducive to the theme of pain. 

The plot of the story is a fairly simply one in regard to flashback.  The first part of it is about the death of Aunt Mary, and it follows with the description of the actual "secrets" in their relationship.  They used to be close;

She would sit with him on her knee, her arms around him and holding the page flat with her hand. ... the boy had noticed the ring when she had read to him as a child. 

The "secret" was Aunt Mary's private discussions that the boy became curious about as he grew older.  Aunt Mary valued her privacy, especially in her love letters to the man she grew to be affectionate towards.  Aunt Mary insisted that the boy never read these, but he read them in their entirety. 

"You are dirt," she hissed, "and always will be dirt.  I shall remember this till the day I die."

Aunt Mary lives true to her word and holds this betrayal even unto death.  The irony is "the boy" was still a child when he betrayed Aunt Mary's trust and privacy.  Her insistence on propriety and morality, then, is a bit harsh.  She holds the grudge until she dies.  This is extreme.  Thus, the boy (who you identify correctly at "the protagonist," as Aunt Mary is definitely "the antagonist") can be characterized as feeling lifelong shame as a result. 

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