What do we learn about the great aunt in the story, “Secrets”
In the story “Secrets” by Bernard MacLaverty, the author conveyed loss and suffering as the theme of the story because the great aunt passed away. “Secrets” conveys how life can change so suddenly, from happiness to loss and suffering.
The story is written in a form of a flashback, and as it continues, it introduces the Aunt and the boy. At the beginning of the story, the author introduces the dying aunt and her nephew who she seems distant from. The reader discovers that the boy and the aunt were not always distant, but they used to share a very close bond. After the aunt dies, the boy remembers childhood moments with his aunt, and how he betrayed her trust and how his aunt never forgave him.
In the beginning of the story, Bernard MacLaverty introduces the reader to the death of the boys aunt. The author then reveals some of the aunt's character. “She lost all the dignity he knew her to have”. This means that the boys aunt had natural grace and dignity before she died, so during her death, she lost something very important to her as her nature. She was exposed to the little boy when she was “at her worst”. She also seemed to be a proud person by nature, and her happiness came with her fulfillment.
After her death, the author lets the reader into the “secrets” of the story. “She would sit with him on her knee, her arms around him and holding the page flat with her hand” This leaves the reader shocked because of the difference between the two relations; the one right before she died, and the one when he was a child. “The girl in the photograph was young and had dark, dark hair scraped severely back and tied like a knotted rope on the top of her head”. This description of the aunt when she was young probably suggests that she felt a loss for her beauty.
The aunt and the little boy had once been very close. The fact that she had read to him as a child proves their attachment. This...
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.