Many of Katherine Mansfield's narratives are characterized by what has been described as "pictorial intensity," evoking various states of happiness, longing, or despair. "Her First Ball" certainly provides a collage of delight, naivete, disappointment, and determination.
In Mansfield's narrative, the ingenue Leila excitedly attends her first formal dance in England. Having lived in the outback, Leila is thrilled with the entire experience as everything appears to be dancing--the gas lights, the little "quivering" flags strung across the ceiling, the gleaming floor, the lanterns, and gilt chairs. "How heavenly; how simply heavenly!" she exclaims. However, the intrusion of the old fat man who presumptuously "writes something" and, then, reappears to cynically tell her that someday she will be an aged chaperone with a black fan and her heart will ache with memories of her youth causes Leila, in an moment of clarity, to sense the man's own disappointment, and "she felt quite sorry for him," so she speaks kindly to him.
Nevertheless, he cruelly persists in describing her sad future and "spoiling it all." Now, perceiving him as a bitter old man, Leila wishes to be rid of him, to escape to her home with a veranda where she listens to baby owls. However, as the music recommences, Leila hears "a soft, melting, ravishing tune," and chooses to ignore the truth of life pronounced by the fat man. Instead, for this wonderful night because
She was only at the beginning of everything. It seemed to her that she had never known what the night was like before...it had opened dazzling bright.
Leila chooses to seize the enjoyment of the moment and not indulge in pessimistic examination of the bleakness of old age. She revels in the magic of her first delightful experiences and does not look beyond the appearance of her life at this moment of exhiliaration.