How are the schoolgirls cruel to the Kelveys in "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The story "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield, shows several instances in which the girls at the school are quite cruel and humiliating to the Kelvey sisters. 

The first evidence of this is found when the narrator describes the type of treatment that the girls get from...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The story "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield, shows several instances in which the girls at the school are quite cruel and humiliating to the Kelvey sisters. 

The first evidence of this is found when the narrator describes the type of treatment that the girls get from everyone at school. They are the daughters of a washerwoman and a man of dubious origin. They are also poor, not well-taken care of, and because of their poverty, even the clothes that they wear are indicative of how socially inferior the poor girls are. 

For these reasons, the first reaction that the children would display upon seeing them is that of haughty indifference. 

Many of the children, including the Burnells, were not allowed even to speak to them. They walked past the Kelveys with their heads in the air, and as they set the fashion in all matters of behaviour, the Kelveys were shunned by everybody.

The bad treatment was not limited to simply shunning the Kelvey girls. Whenever it was time to pay any attention to them, it was to publicly humiliate them, reminding them how different they were from the other kids at school, particularly those who knew where they came from.

The children stood together under the pine trees, and [...]they wanted to be horrid to them. [...] "Lil Kelvey's going to be a servant when she grows up." [...] Then Lena Logan's little eyes snapped. "Shall I ask her?" [...] "Is it true you're going to be a servant when you grow up, Lil Kelvey?" shrilled Lena.

The children would remind the Kelvey girls that their father is in prison, and the more they insulted the girls, the more bold they felt. 

Yet, children were not the only ones to be mean to the Kelveys. We know that the teacher at the school had a "special voice" only for the Kelveys, especially whenever Lil Kelvey would bring her flowers. She would make a face and use a voice that showed a condescending attitude toward the little girl.  

The parents of the Burnell sisters also shunned the girls, as their mother told the Kelvey girls' mom to keep away from the Burnell girls. We also know how Aunt Beryl treated them when she saw them at the house. The girls were essentially destitute in every way. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team