Please comment on the ending of "The Doll's House" by Katharine Mansfield.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This excellent story is as much about social division as it is about anything else. The doll's house, which becomes the status symbol for the Burnell girls, emphasises that, even amongst children, there is a clearly demarcated system of social relations that must not be transgressed. Forces external to the children place them in a carefully organised social order, with the Burnells first and the Kelveys most definitely placed beyond the limits of social respectability. Note how this is described in the text:

But the line had to be drawn somewhere. It was drawn at the Kelveys. Many of the children, including the Burnells, were not allowed to even speak to them. They walked past the Kelveys with their heads in the air, and as they set the fashion in all matters of behaviour, the Kelveys were shunned by everybody. Even the teacher had a special voice for them, and a special smile for the other children when Lil Kelvey came up to her desk with a bunch of dreadfully common-looking flowers.

Thus we can see the theme of social class distinctions and how it emerges through the text. Yet Keziah, perhaps because of her youth, seems to not understand such social niceties, and thus she lets the Kelvey sisters see the house. After they get chased out by Aunt Beryl, Else remembers the sight of the little red lamp in the house. This lamp could be said to operate symbolically throughout the story, as it is this rather than anything else that moves the silent Else to smile and speak. We could argue that this lamp thus represents the light of kindness that briefly shone out of Kezia or perhaps the warmth of inclusion and belonging. The ending of this excellent story therefore offers us a ray of hope in a world filled with class divisions.

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