In the beginning of the story Aunt Beryl hates the smell of the paint.How is this symbolic of her character?character analysis

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Katherine Mansfield's short story "The Doll's House", the character of aunt Beryl epitomizes the classicist nature of a society where the comforts and luxuries of the upper classes are drastically above and beyond those of the lower classes. Beryl's actions and mannerisms are symptoms of a person who has way too much time in her hands, and too many ways to waste it, by being preoccupied with minor matters such as, for example, the smell of paint.

For, really, the smell of paint coming from that doll's house ("Sweet of old Mrs. Hay, of course; most sweet and generous!") -- but the smell of paint was quite enough to make any one seriously ill, in Aunt Beryl's opinion. Even before the sacking was taken off.

That comment foreshadows that the character of aunt Beryl is quite annoying, since she is complaining before the sacking of the dollhouse has even been taken off. However, this is a mere fragment of information compared to the real significance of what Bery'ls behaviors really imply.

Aunt Beryl is part of a privileged stratum of society that feels entitled to the benefits that its wealthy groups enjoy. As a result, Beryl is a woman completely detached from the reality that wealth is not distributed equally. Hence, she does not understand how, just as she enjoys the comforts and joy of a well-established household, there are those who are less fortunate and have to fight to meet the bare necessities of life. This is why she is oblivious to the feelings of others, especially those of the Kelvey sisters, whom she literally treats like animals when she finds them inside their property.

At the back door stood Aunt Beryl, staring as if she couldn't believe what she saw.
"How dare you ask the little Kelveys into the courtyard?" said her cold, furious voice. "You know as well as I do, you're not allowed to talk to them. Run away, children, run away at once. And don't come back again," said Aunt Beryl. And she stepped into the yard and shooed them out as if they were chickens.
"Off you go immediately!" she called, cold and proud.

Her character also alludes to the stereotypical spinster aunt who, now in her elderly years, comes to live with relatives to adopt the role of a guardian or governess to the family's children. This is why we see that she is so extremely protective and eccentric about the safety of Kezia, Isabel, and Lottie. It also is the reason why we can expect her making such a big deal out of the dollhouse's paint: She is simply a proud, self-absorbed, probably socially frustrated woman whose duty is now to act like a guardian to the girls- an imprudent one, at that.

Yet, to add depth and mystery to her character traits, we find that she is perhaps hiding a secret that the reader never gets to know about.

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.

Therefore, not only is she a selfish and plain mean woman, but one who lays her own personal demons and sins onto the fragile natures of others less privileged than herself.