What are the literary criticisms related to the story of The Doll's House by Katherine Mansfield?

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

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Central to understanding the story is realising how Mansfield is using the Kelvey sisters and the way they are treated to point out how cruelly class distinctions lead others to treat those who occupy the lowest rungs of society. Let us remember that Mansfield was writing at a time when class distinctions in New Zealand were still maintained very strictly, if not even more than in Britain. Thus it is that we see a microcosm of society with different social classes. But Mansfield seems to suggest that there is always a class that is not accepted:

But the line had to be drawn somewhere. It was drawn at the Kelveys.... Even the teacher had a special voice for them, and a special smile for th eother children when Lil Kelvey came up to her desk with a bunch of dreadfully common-looking flowers.

Note how even the teacher, the person who should be treating all of her students equally, is shown to discriminate against the Kelveys. This raises one of the more sinister and rather disturbing theme that this story raises: the way that higher classes, including the children belonging to those classes, enjoy and take pleasure in the cruelty and abuse that they can inflict on people like the Kelveys. The end of the story, for example, suggests that Aunt Beryl finds something cathartic in abusing the Kelveys having been pursued herself about money owing:

The afternoon had been awful. A letter had come from Willie Brent, a terrifying, threatening letter, saying if she did not meet him that evening in Pulman's Bush, he'd come to the front door and ask the reason why! But now that she had frightened those little rats of Kelveys and given Kezia a good scolding, her heart felt lighter. That ghastly pressure was gone. She went back to the house humming.

Note how this scene finds its parallel in the story when the Burnells and friends make fun of the Kelveys cruelly, and become 'wild with joy' as a result. Thus any criticism of this story needs to explore how snobbery and cruelty are legitimised by class distinctions, however cruel and barbaric that leads people to become in their behaviour.

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