As themes go, friendship is the big one, the white whale, the lucky penny, the x-marks-the-spot on the treasure map. In other words, Shmoopsters, Code Name Verity is all about friendship: what it is, how it forms, what it means, and how far friends will go for each other.
As we've mentioned elsewhere in this learning guide, the two narrators—Julie and Maddie—are best friends, and the whole book is about their friendship. Of course, there are a lot of World War II shenanigans going on at the same time, but that's all backdrop to the story of how Julie and Maddie became best friends, what the friendship means to each of them, and what they will do to protect each other.
Maddie and Julie become best friends so quickly because the circumstances under which they meet quickly reveal a lot about a person's character.
Readers understand each character better by seeing her through her best friend's eyes.
Really, was there a chance manipulation wouldn't be one of the themes in a spy novel? Espionage and interrogation are all about manipulating people, about carefully lying and carefully telling the truth to get what you want out of your enemies. Or so we've been told. We don't actually know this from personal experience.
In Code Name Verity, Julie learns to manipulate those she interrogates, then her captors manipulate her even as she's manipulating them with the careful interplay of lies and truth in her story. Meanwhile, the Bloody Machiavellian English Intelligence Officer playing God manipulates everyone he can get his hands on. We should mention, too, that the reader isn't immune: Julie is an unreliable narrator from the start, but it's only after her story ends that we realize how cleverly she's played us.
Manipulation is a skill possessed by all the major characters in Code Name Verity.
Julie actually manipulates her captors more than they manipulate her.
Warfare is another great big glaring theme in Code Name Verity. Without warfare, we wouldn't have much of a book, after all—there'd be no interrogation, no flying to France, and no friendship between Julie and Maddie in the first place. None of the terrible things both narrators describe would happen at all, plus they never would have even met. Julie and Maddie both take refuge in their friendship, by being together and then by writing about their time together when they're apart. For both, it's the one really good thing that comes out of something truly terrible.
Themes of war and friendship are intertwined in Code Name Verity to the point that they cannot be separated.
The war provides the backdrop for the story of Julie and Maddie's friendship, but the story could have been set anywhere and at any time.
We'd be surprised if fear weren't a theme in a book about fighting the Nazis. Maddie and Julie talk about their fears a lot, to the point where they each maintain a list of ten things they're afraid of.
The book isn't just about sitting back and being afraid of your fears, though, and significantly, both Maddie and Julie manage to overcome their major fears in order to get their jobs done. Julie conquers her fear of heights to parachute into France, and Maddie ultimately conquers her fear of gunfire to shoot Julie on the night of the raid. In Code Name Verity, fear is something to be acknowledged and overcome.
Changes in Maddie's and Julie's mental states can be traced by examining their lists of fears.
While fear is omnipresent, it is not what motivates most characters' actions.
Perseverance: hanging in, hanging on, getting the job done. It's a useful quality to have in war, and in life. In Code Name Verity, Julie has a mission to complete, Maddie has a friend to save, and both of them are determined to accomplish their goals no matter what the odds or what the cost.
The theme of perseverance shows up both as endurance and as determination, as Julie and Maddie endure terrible conditions in occupied France, determined to finish their jobs. Maddie and Julie aren't the only ones demonstrating perseverance, though. How do other characters, like Jamie, the members of Damask circuit, Lady Beaufort-Stuart, and even the Gestapo officers, show their willingness to see things through? This is one dedicated cast of characters, that's for sure.
In Code Name Verity, Julie demonstrates perseverance through her endurance of torture and her determination to complete her story.
In Code Name Verity, Maddie demonstrates perseverance by completing Julie's mission.
What's a war without a few traitors in the mix? Julie calls herself a traitor on every other page of her "confession," mostly to convince the Ormaie Gestapo that she's actually giving them valuable information—but she's lying about that, so technically she's betraying them even as she's pretending to betray her own country. Maddie feels like she betrays Julie by killing her, but everyone who finds out about it says Maddie did the right thing. Betrayal, in other words, is tricky in Code Name Verity. In occupied France, in a situation where nothing is as it seems and everyone has secrets, trust is valuable, but betrayal runs rampant.
Julie's performance of treason in her confession is utterly convincing until her last diary entry.
Julie's interrogators, von Linden, Engel, and Thibaut, are the ones who actually commit treason.
Most books about any war will deal with the idea of mortality, if only because lots of people tend to die in war, which puts it on everyone's mind. In Code Name Verity, there's a lot of waiting for death as Julie anticipates her execution or transfer to a concentration camp. She has a lot of time to think about not only her own death, but also about how death is portrayed in literature and how people in history have faced their deaths, too. As readers, it's easy both to feel as though Julie's death is inevitable, and to hope it isn't—and then, of course, to have that hope crushed.
Julie's death is both inevitable and necessary for the novel to be realistic.
Julie could realistically have survived the raid as other prisoners did.
The theme of society and class comes in to play in Code Name Verity mostly through the contrast between Maddie's and Julie's backgrounds. Maddie is middle-class and Julie is a titled aristocrat, but they're best friends anyway, thanks to the war and their respective general awesomeness. It's interesting to think about society and class as a theme in a novel in which the Nazis play a major role, given the way they judged people based on various identity markers that really had very little to do with the person underneath the label. Just like class.
The differences between Maddie's and Julie's socioeconomic backgrounds actually serve as the basis for their friendship.
Maddie's and Julie's socioeconomic backgrounds make no difference to their characters or to the development of their friendship.
It's impossible to title a novel Code Name Verity and not deal with the concept of truth. Okay, we guess it's possible, but it's not very likely since verity, or la vérité in French, means truth. This novel asks us to think about the nature of truth. What's the difference between truth and lies? Is it possible to tell the truth while lying? Is truth an absolute, or are there gray areas and shades of meaning? Can what is true for one person be false for another? No matter how you answer these questions, though, this much is certain: truth is a very odd code name for a spy.
Julie's code name does not make sense in the context of the novel, and is just an opportunity for the author to emphasize a specific theme.
Julie's code name was chosen to conceal the fact that she is an excellent liar.