ENGLISH LITERATURE - UFPR, MAY 17th 2010
CAIO BEGOTTI & CARLOS CONRADO
Mansfield was born in 1888 (New Zealand), died in 1923 (France). She was from a rich
middle-class colonial family (her father was a banker and also a knight of the Empire).
Her early life was set in Wellington and its suburban‟s (with plenty of contact with the
local Maori culture and community). Her social contexts were the colonial Victorian
period during childhood and the World War I when adult.
Personal life created relations to her short-stories:
1. Family ties (cousin, brother, father and mother visited her in Europe, which
helped to influence her short-stories about “home”).
2. Country-side memories.
“All the Karori children — boys and girls —went to the [same] Karori School”.
Mansfield died of tuberculosis , she was only 34: “...the longer I live, the more I return
to New Zealand. A young country is a real heritage, though it takes one time to
remember it. But New Zealand is in my very bones”.
She wrote in 1916: “I begin to think of an unfinished memory which has been with me
for years. It is a very good story if only I can tell it right, and it is called „Lena‟”.
Kezia and Lottie appear in other stories, perhaps indicating crystallized characters
inspired by early memories as a girl: At The Bay, The Man Without a Temperament,
“Selected children from the Primary School — selected neighbour children — were
allowed over to play with them; and then they had great parties in the garden”, so
perhaps this had influenced her on writing The Doll‟s House.
Left New Zealand and move to England to never see home again and had two lesbian
relationships, possibly four, and had a spontaneous abortion once.
Kept writing about personal experiences (like her time in Bavaria for a treatment) and
ended up marrying John Murry, an influent editor, which allowed her to publish her
works and review other authors of that time.
She had been influenced by D. H. Lawrence, Woolf, French symbolists, Wilde,
Chekhov and mainly wrote modernist texts, whose characteristics were attention to
details, nonlinear narratives and not much structure.
Today she‟s considered one of the best short-story writers of her period, frequently
included in short-stories anthologies, have written stories with themes ranging from
class consciousness, loneliness, women‟s rights, maoris, reality versus appearances,
relationships and to childhood.
The main symbol is, at the same time, the title and the subject of the short story, that is,
the doll‟s house. There are many aspects revolving around this symbol or subject, as if the
doll‟s house was a gravitational point where everything in the short story happens.
1. Characters: the Burnell sisters, the little Kelveys, the mother and aunt, schoolgirls
2. Action: the girls run to see the doll‟s house, the great novelty!
3. Conflict: the little Kelveys are not invited to see it
4. Themes: pride and prejudice, true and false feelings of friendship, innocence
1. Emphasis: K. Mansfield focuses the relationship among the society of her time,
emphasizing themes such as prejudice and external appearances.
2. Pacing: the rhythm of the narrative is fast, covering mainly the interest of showing and
seeing the doll‟s house.
3. Order: chronological order
1. Exposition: the description of the doll‟s house and its effect upon the children.
2. Conflict: the initial conflict takes place when the little Kelveys sisters are not invited to
see the doll‟s house.
a. Person against person: all characters but Kezia avoid the little Kelveys sisters due to
their social condition.
b. Person against environment: at the same time the little Kelveys as well as their
parents are victims of the society‟s prejudice. Rich people avoiding poor people.
3. Rising action: takes place when Kezia invites the little Kelveys sisters to see the doll‟s
4. Climax: when finally the little Kelveys sisters see the doll‟s house and soon after they
are expelled from the backyard by aunt Beryl.
a. Falling action: the little Kelveys, after that tremendous fright, stop to rest.
b. Resolution: the little Kelveys were satisfied to see the doll‟s house. Elsa was happy
manly because she saw the little lamp.
The narrator is omniscient during the whole plot of the short story. He is an observer,
controlling the situation and some times being an intruder narrator, commenting
about life in a poetic way in this short story.
The readers have only two clues of the setting. When, at the beginning of the short
story the narrator says that Mrs. Hay went back to town, that is, she was in some place
at countryside. Another clue takes place when the narrator says that there was one
school for miles, giving to the readers the idea of a small place or countryside.
Thus, the setting is important to establish the confluence of people from many levels of
society where the theme of prejudice is infiltrated.
Protagonist and antagonist: it is difficult to establish the protagonist of this short story
because Kezia and the little Kelveys have the same importance in the plot. If one or
another did not exist the plot would not be well constructed. On the other hand we
have many antagonists in the plot. Isabel Burnell, her colleagues and her aunt are in
the same level, all them carrying their prejudice against the little Kelveys. The
conventions of society, the false appearances and prejudice are antagonists as well.
The only characters presented in details on the plot are the little Kelveys. The narrator
explores their clothes as a signal of their social condition. The direct presentation is
All characters in The Doll‟s House are flat. The antagonists are characterized by their
prejudice and insensibility, the children following the educational patterns of their
parents. In spite of their kindness, simplicity and innocence, Kezia and the little
Kelveys are also flat characters, because there is no complexity in their behavior.
The central concept of this short story is the prejudice against poverty as well as the
idea of false appearances. Besides, there is a subtle theme in The Doll‟s House that is
the example of parents about the education of their children.
The Doll‟s house is a symbol. In this short story the external aspect of the house, its
beauty, appearance, color and form alludes to the external aspect of human being, that
is, his position in society, assets and family‟s name. The internal components of the
house have many meanings, being the little lamp, which has the main significance. The
lamp represents the soul, the qualities of the human being and his real nature.
ALLUSIONS AND IRONY
Maybe the literary allusion in The Doll‟s House could be the title, because is the same
of the Ibsen‟s famous play. But, as there is not any connection between contents in
these works, maybe there is only a coincidence. There are some quotations in The
Doll‟s House where we can see soft indications of irony.
FURTHER READINGS & MORE
The Doll‟s House, Rudall Hayward, 1975
Picture of Katherine Mansfield, Alan Cooke, 1973
The Life & Writings of Katherine Mansfield
Katherine Mansfield Chronology