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What is the significance and symbolism of the lamp in "The Doll's House" when Kezia...

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rn20yr | Honors

Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:12 AM via web

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What is the significance and symbolism of the lamp in "The Doll's House" when Kezia sees it and when Else says she got to see it?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:27 AM (Answer #1)

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"The Doll's House", a story by Katherine Mansfield, treats the topic of social injustice and class distinction under the scope of two different children, Kezia and Else, reacting to something that is new, beautiful, and unique to both just the same. 

In the story, Kezia Burnell and her sister Lottie receive a beautiful dollhouse as a gift. Kezia is particularly impressed by the miniature oil lamp that is displayed at the small dining room of the dollhouse. So impressed she is that she considers it to be the best thing because it looks so real. Its description is quite enticing:

But what Kezia liked more than anything, what she liked frightfully, was the lamp. It stood in the middle of the dining-room table, an exquisite little amber lamp with a white globe. It was even filled all ready for lighting, though, of course, you couldn't light it. But there was something inside that looked like oil, and that moved when you shook it.

It is significant that Mansfield gives so much detail to this lamp, because it denotes its uniqueness not only in terms of aesthetics, but also in terms of how impossible it would be for just "anybody" to receive a gift so detailed, and expensive. Even the reader feels wonder to see such a gorgeous item inside dollhouse which, the audience knows, can only be the possession of people with enough time in their hands to work them, and enough money to put them together. Undoubtedly, Mansfield wants us to appreciate the nature of this small item, and where it is meant to belong. This is because this unique, and delicate lamp will also be the object of interest of someone much less privileged and financially gifted: Else Kelvey.

Else Kelvey and her sister Lil are the foils to the Burnell sisters: They are the daughters of a washerwoman and a man thought to be in jail. They do not dress well, nor have the poise that little ladies who are sure of themselves have. They are basically deemed as "vermin" by the high-class relatives of the Burnells and they are shun from their company for being considered less worthy.

They were the daughters of a spry, hardworking little washerwoman, who went about from house to house by the day. This was awful enough. But where was Mr. Kelvey? Nobody knew for certain. But everybody said he was in prison. So they were the daughters of a washerwoman and a gaolbird. Very nice company for other people's children! And they looked it.

However, the lamp takes a special role when we realize that it is the one thing that Kezia loves the most and talks about the most. Curiously, nobody within or outside her circle seem to listen to her...except Else! She takes every word that Kezia says at face value and dreams about that same lamp. This is symbolic: All people, rich or poor, have the same wants, dreams, wishes, and hopes. Sometimes, it takes for someone to merely get a glimpse at a dream to feel realized forever.

This is the reason why, when Else finally gets a very small chance to see the house, she forgets the fact that she was shooed out of the Burnell's home as if she were an animal. Instead, she focuses on one simple fact: She, too, had the chance to know what the lamp looked like. She had her opportunity to appreciate it. She, too, was able to be there. Hence, this is a direct hint at how society is unbalanced, and dissimilar. It shows how the spoils of the rich cause the dreams of the poor, however, it is our dreams what make us all human just the same.

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