The following academic paper highlights the up-to-date issues and questions of Linda Burnell. This sample provides just some ideas on how this topic can be analyzed and discussed.
In this passage, we see Mansfield’s recurring theme of the apparent futility of women’s lives through the portrayal of Linda Burnell, the mother of the family, shown to us by the extensive use of her stream of consciousness. Mansfield also uses this chapter to present Linda’s relationship with the male sex and, more specifically, with her husband, Stanley.
Linda is in the garden and ‘dreams the morning away’ – through this, Mansfield presents to us her apparent aimlessness and disinterest in the activities presented to her by life. The scene and place is set first by a large chunk of description of the garden where Linda is lying in her steamer chair. Mansfield uses similes such as ‘Each […] petal shone as if each was the careful work of a loving hand’ to add interest to the description and create correlations between the idea of beauty and work; that things can be beautiful and take time but that ultimately, nothing will last forever or hold any real weight at the end of the day. This leads us to the internal conflict of Linda as she comes to terms with how little ‘meaning’ her life has; she questions ‘Why, then, flower at all?’ Flowering being the sexual reproduction of plants, we see the parallels between Linda’s unwanted children and these wasted flowers. This introduces Mansfield’s trademark objective correlative as she incites the reader to question the waste of effort for something lovely but temporary.
Relishing some moments alone, Linda strolls through the garden and appears to take time out from the responsibilities life has presented to her. We see again the use of symbolism as Mansfield compares her children and the flowers in the garden; Linda berates having no time to enjoy the flowers as ‘along came Life and one was swept away’. This could be a direct nod towards Linda being hurried with her children and thus having no time to ‘part the petals, to discover the under-side of the leaf.’ However, with her girls old enough to look after themselves, she appears to have more time to herself and to enjoy these simple pleasures, at least in the flowers. It later becomes apparent that this could also translate to her youngest child. We see this idea in particular with the imagined conversation with her son. Despite having convinced herself of her apathy towards her children, Linda finds herself taken aback by the glee of the baby and seems on the brink of regenerating those lost maternal urges. She starts out saying that she ‘doesn’t like babies’ but slowly finds herself feeling ‘something so new, so…’ However, as the boy loses interest in his mother, we are left with the impression that it is too late for Linda to learn to love him. It is possible that Mansfield intended the ‘something pink, something soft’ waving in front of him to be a metaphor for Linda’s wavering affection; this would directly show us how little stability it held and how it would not necessarily last or be captured by the boy.
Linda’s life is fairly stereotypical of women at the time and not dissimilar to many other characters presented by Mansfield in such stories as ‘Frau Brechenmacher Attends a Wedding’ and even ‘The Woman at the Store’ where the female protagonists again ask this endless ‘What for?’ Seemingly resigned to her life, Linda loses interest in her family and seeks time alone away from her children. Child-bearing has left her an empty shell; Mansfield uses the following simile to explain it: ‘it was as though a cold breath had chilled her through and through on each of those awful journeys’. Linda has been used as a breeding tool and rejects the idea that it was ‘the common lot of women to bear children’. She has become a cold character due to her children and finds herself incapable of loving them. She comes to terms with this rather unfeelingly, saying that ‘even if she had had the strength, she never would have nursed or played with the little girls’. However, through this and the dialogue with her father, we see that what she sees as her indifference towards her children may in fact just be her indifference towards her entire sex. After a childhood where Linda and her father are ‘two boys together’, she finds herself thrust into the responsibilities of a woman at the time. Evidently, she resents this and perhaps sees her daughters’ lives as being just as worthless as her own. Her son, however, presents a whole new realm of possibilities.
This chapter gives her relationship with Stanley new depth and dimension – we see that she loves him for his simplicity. This is interesting, as simplicity is typically thought of as being a childish characteristic, and she has such difficulty in enjoying her offspring. That said, this simplicity forces her to mother him; ‘her whole life was spent in rescuing him, and restoring him, and calming him down, and listening to his story.’ This could help explain to us that she feels that her mothering is all used up and that there is no more maternal warmth left for her children. The dynamic of their relationship also appears to have changed as she sees ‘her Stanley so seldom’. With the responsibility of being a family man, Stanley has changed from having attractive childish qualities such as ‘timidity, sensitivity and innocence’ to being a less attractive, but nonetheless childish, burden requiring a great deal of care. Having to put her children and her husband ahead of herself, Linda loses track of who she is and feels betrayed by the world when looking at her general lot.
Throughout the passage, Linda is painted as being ‘seized and shaken’ and generally flustered. Childbearing having left her cold, she defies nature by ostensibly having no motherly feelings whatsoever. Life has ripped her of her spirit and she demands whether ‘it [would] always be so’ and ‘was there no escape?’ Despite this cold persona, Mansfield shows us that Linda was once a fun-loving character, at least as a child. She and her father were keen to ‘cut off somewhere, to escape. Two boys together.’ This shows us that, from the very beginning, Linda had no desire to play with dolls or keep a play-house and, had she not been constrained by the confines of society at the time, would have had adventures far higher on her list of priorities than marital and maternal drudge.
Essentially, this passage helps to explain the social politics of the time and the role of women, something which disgusted and fascinated Mansfield. As one of the central characters, Linda helps shape the story and those around her. It also touches upon the sense of duty which this character has and her internal struggle with her indifference towards it.