Katherine Mansfield Short Stories

The following academic paper highlights the up-to-date issues and questions of Katherine Mansfield Short Stories. This sample provides just some ideas on how this topic can be analyzed and discussed.

The short stories of Katherine Mansfield can largely be divided into two distinct categories. The first of which deals mostly in satirising and somewhat flippantly portraying the affluent middle class society of early twentieth-century England. Such short stories are often seen by critics as failing to contend with any serious or significant social issues, and are rather a mocking imitation of bourgeois life.

The latter group of Mansfield’s short stories can be said to depict a somewhat deeper and more understanding sense of life, in which Mansfield explores a plethora of emotional and psychological concerns through her characters. It is in these stories where the “joys and terrors of sexuality and mortality” can be found through Mansfield’s exploration of an “ordinary mind on an ordinary day”.

Perhaps the story that most clearly delves into the issue of sexuality is Mansfield’s most provocative and controversial short story “Bliss”.

Upon its publication, “Bliss” was subject to much criticism; Virginia Woolf claimed that it was uninteresting, while T.S. Eliot asserted that it was “without moral and social ramification”. Though it is clear to see why such a radical story might not have been appreciated in its time, “Bliss” is far more than the predictable love-triangle tale is appears to be from the surface. The underlying theme of the story is a tentative insight into the nature of female sexuality.

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The Short Stories Of Katherine Mansfield

The scene in which Bertha and Pearl stand next to one another admiring the tree in the garden is clearly symbolic in terms of sexuality and undoubtedly tests the boundaries of female homoeroticism.

And the two women stood side by side looking at the slender, flowering tree. Although it was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed – almost to touch the rim of the round, silver moon.

The pear tree in the story comes to symbolise Bertha’s character, she sees aspects of herself in it. The fact that she dresses in white, green and jade for the dinner party (the same colours as the tree) is no coincidence, and is a suggestion of her subconscious comparison between herself and the tree. In a similar way, Pearl is likened throughout to the Moon through Mansfield’s imagery. Pearl is dressed all in silver, the same colour the Moon is described as, her fingers “like moonbeams, are so slender that a pale light seemed to come from them”.

Her “cool arm”, “heavy eyelids” and mysterious “half smile” all seem to imply a similarity between Pearl and the Moon. Furthermore, Pearl’s name itself can be seen as an example of imagery, as a pearl can be likened to the Moon in terms of its shape and colour. With this in mind, the scene symbolises the sexual tension between Bertha and Pearl, and Bertha’ subconscious homoerotic desire for Pearl. The two characters gaze outwards through the window in consideration of their two respective symbols. The juxtaposition of the tree and the Moon, and the fact that the tree is stretching upwards in an attempt to reach (and presumably penetrate) the round Moon, can be seen as Bertha’s desire for Pearl.

The fluctuating experience continues immediately after this scene, as Bertha suddenly moves away from Bertha, and begins to fix her sights upon her husband once again.

As those last words something strange and almost terrifying darted into Bertha’s mind. And this something blind and smiling whispered to her: ‘Soon these people will go. The house will be quiet – quiet. The lights will be out and you will be alone together in the dark room – the warm bed…’

We are told at this point that ‘for the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband’, yet it seems odd that this sudden shift back towards her husband should come straight after her moment with Pearl Fulton. Her emotions and strong feeling of lust for her husband are triggered by her subconscious desire for Pearl. Through this radical example, Mansfield explores the free flowing sexuality of women in early 20th century England, and delves into the concept of lesbianism – something almost unheard of at the time of writing.

In terms of Mansfield’s juxtaposition of the ordinary with the sexual, throughout “Bliss”, Bertha’s descriptions of the most mundane and routine things have sexual undertones. She takes note of Pearl rolling a tangerine between her fingers, and describes how Harry loves the “white flesh” of a lobster. Food and the concept of eating seem to evoke a deep sense of lust in Bertha and as such contribute to the “fluctuating experience of an ordinary mind”.

The twist at the end of the story is somewhat ironic. Whilst Bertha has imagined throughout, the possibility of engaging in sexual relations with both Harry and Pearl, she later finds out that the pair are already lovers. By reaching this conclusion, Mansfield does not grant Bertha her bliss (repressed sexual desire), she has become a third wheel and an outsider in the relationship.

Mansfield’s outlook on death and mortality can also be clearly seen within her work. One story that clearly deals with the question of mortality is “At the Bay”, and like “Bliss” this tale has been praised for it’s seemingly simplistic storyline combined with a deep and significant underlying meaning. Through symbols and motifs, Mansfield raises questions about the nature of our existence.

The key recurring motif, which runs throughout, is that of the sun. The imagery Mansfield chooses to use through the story creates a deep sense of interconnection – the feeling that everything around us is relevant and purposeful. The story, though seeming to be concerned mainly with family relationships and the tension that inevitably comes with them, also takes into account the anxiety of death, which was a huge concern at the time.

The sun in the story is seen as a powerful and fiery force, marking time and creating routine. Its inescapable and monotonous schedule not only creates unity amongst all humans, but also limits all actions. The link created between time and the sun is significant in highlighting Mansfield’s concern with the shortness as well as the limitations of life. Even the characters within the story seem to recognize the influence and potentially damaging nature of the sun. Stanley’s daily routine mirrors the sun – he wakes as the sun rises, and returns home when it sets.

Meanwhile, other characters such as Mrs Fairfield seek to avoid the sun through the course of the story and Uncle William is referred to, as we hear that he ‘went to the mines, and…got a sunstroke there and died’. There is an undertone of death, and anxiousness about morality that run throughout, and these can be strongly linked to the presence of the sun.

In conclusion, it is clear to see the way Mansfield creates a fluctuating experience of an ordinary mind, and hints strongly at the joys and terrors of both sexuality and mortality. In “Bliss” we are allowed to see a fairly biased insight into the life of a woman with free flowing sexual desires which transcend the bounds of heterosexuality. Mansfield’s clever imagery and juxtaposition of the ordinary with the strong sexual desires of Bertha clearly create the impression of an ordinary woman trying to break free from normal social constraints and express her repressed sexual desire. Bertha is not only curious and excited about her subconscious thoughts, but at the same time terrified about the implications and consequences they may have.

The idea of ordinary minds and ordinary lives continues in “At the Bay”, where Mansfield cleverly creates a story which seems to be concerned with family ties and tensions, yet beneath the surface delves into a whole host of issues regarding mortality and death. The sun is highly significant in “At the Bay”, the characters in the story live by it and at the same time fear it. It controls their lives and has the potential to bring death. It is through the sun that Mansfield highlights the anxieties of death and mortality.

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Katherine Mansfield Short Stories. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-short-stories-katherine-mansfield/

Katherine Mansfield Short Stories
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