Themes and Meanings
As an observer of human behavior, Katherine Mansfield is a psychological realist who analyzes impressionistically a single moment in her characters’ lives. Bertha’s moment of bliss makes her want, for a moment, to touch her husband. Later, she has a “miraculous” moment when she is certain Pearl feels what she feels. The time setting for the story is only a few hours—a moment in Bertha’s life but one prefigured in her past, and one that presages her future. Bertha’s moment of bliss produces another, inseparable, key moment: her “strange . . . terrifying” realization that she desires her husband.
Complex possibilities make a single interpretation of this story indefensible. An interesting possibility is to read “Bliss” solely as an expression of Bertha’s moment of bliss from start to finish; from neither Bertha, from whose point of view the reader experiences the elements of the story, nor the author does the reader receive clear, literal expressions of Bertha’s having negative feelings about the scene between Harry and Pearl at the end. Mansfield’s intentionally ambiguous story raises many possibilities but no one to the exclusion of all others. Several questions arise. Why is Bertha “overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss” on this particular day? Is it by cruel chance that on the same day she will, ironically, discover her husband’s bliss with another woman? Would she have been able to sustain the feeling of bliss alone that night when, “for the first time,” she desired him? Would the rushes of bliss cease tomorrow as suddenly as they had struck her today?...
(The entire section is 660 words.)