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Essay: The Go-Between by Ali Smith

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 4 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published: 8 October 2015*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 959 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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Human rights. A bitter, yet ironic, tale about a world we all know, but still refuse to accept or deal with. ‘The Go-Between’ is a short story about an African man who is striving for a better life, a safe life with a bright future and without the fear of financial issues. Dreaming and hoping for a better life can be good thing, but if you put your expectations too high, then it is really going to hurt when reality comes and smacks you in the face. Limbs torn off, multiple escape attempts, violent encounters. None of which sounds particularly pleasant. This short story is built upon several topics, where I believe the most important one, is Human Rights.
‘The Go-Between’ was part of a collection of short stories that were written to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The protagonist of the short story is a 33-year-old African man, who used to be a microbiologist. ‘I’m thirty-three years old.’ ‘I was a microbiologist, before.’ Now, however, he is a so-called ‘border crosser’, where his job is to help the refugees cross the border between Spain and Morocco. He is a middleman between the refugees and the French Doctors ‘ he is, as the title implies, the ‘Go-Between’.
This job has not been easy on him, and in the text we are told that he lost a piece of his ear and a finger. ‘I lost the top part of my ear on the fence. (‘) My third finger off this hand’? The fact that he does not stop doing his job, even after such horrible injuries, shows that he is a very determined person with a positive mind-set.
He is living a very unhealthy life under extremely poor conditions, which can be seen in the text where he describes himself: ‘I’m a small, slight man. I’m not a big man. I’m lean and slight.’
Furthermore he is a man of dignity. He is a proud man, and he is ashamed of his disabilities. For instance his limp, his incomplete ear, and his missing finger. This is also shown in the following excerpt from the text: ‘I’ve only a slight limp, not noticeable. I wear my hat down over my ears. I keep my hand folded so no one sees the loss in it.’
Africa is a continent that is very far behind concerning technology. This means that a lot of people in Africa live in uncertainty, they are unaware of what is happening around the world. The protagonist in this story had heard about the ‘better’ life in Spain, and he wanted that. But not only did he want to live in Spain, he had to. The living conditions were so incredibly bad back in Cameroon where he used to live that he could have died of starvation if he had not gone somewhere else. The following quote gives a quite good explanation of this: ‘Nobody leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.’ This is the reason why he seeks to help other refugees get across the border; he does not want them to live the same miserable life that he did.
The short story is written in first person where the protagonist also is the narrator. In the short story the reader becomes very involved with the protagonist’s feelings and thoughts. Sometimes throughout the story it might even seem that the protagonist is speaking directly to the reader, ‘You know what Spain is? It’s a bird’s flight from here. I don’t mean a long flight. I mean, use your eyes.’ This tells us that the short story is not structured in any particular way. Actually it is the exact opposite. The way of narrating is very chaotic and messy, which makes the story seem like a constant, flowing stream of thoughts, which certainly serves to intrigue the reader.
Regarding the language in the short story, the author uses a very simple, or even simplistic, language. The author did this because he wanted the language and the short story to be reflected in each other. For instance the short, simple sentences makes it clear to us that the protagonist does not speak English very well.
I think the tone in the short story is both a little tragic but also optimistic. For instance, as I mentioned in the beginning of this analysis, the man describes himself as a ‘small, slight man’, which is followed up by him stating ‘The Cameroon Swimmer. Philosophical Professor Me.’ This strongly indicates that the protagonist is living a tragic life, and that he has to keep a positive and happy mind-set in order to cope with reality.
He is living a life between two completely different worlds; Europe and Africa. Physically he does not belong anywhere anymore, he is stuck between two continents. This is emphasized by the title of the short story, ‘The Go-Between’, because no matter what the protagonist does, he can only go to a place in between.
With that said, I believe that Ali Smith’s intention with the story is to shine a light on the ironic fact that we are celebrating an occasion that is still so far away from deserving celebration. Her short story is an ironic observation of the lacks in executing these rights, even 60 years after they were implemented.
After reading this story you are very startled, and you get a sudden profound gratitude for living in a country where these rights are as familiar as the bike-ride to school. It is not fair that some countries are not respecting these rights, and that is what Ali Smith is telling us through ‘The Go-Between’.

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