How is snobbery portrayed in the short story "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Snobbery is depicted in Mansfield's "The Doll's House" with the social stratification described in the narrative and with the spoken words and actions of the Burnells.

After "dear old Mrs. Hay" has stayed with the Burnells, she sends the prettiest and most interesting doll's house to the three Burnell girls. They are so excited about owning this extravagant doll's house that they ask to be able to show it to some of the other girls at school.

The snobbery of the Burnells is exemplified in the planning of the viewing and the arrangement of the girls who will be allowed to view the doll's house: 

  • The oldest Burnell girl named Isabel declares that she is the one who will select who is allowed to come and view the toy house. 
  • The girls will not be allowed to stay for tea or go through the Burnell house.
  • They must stand quietly in the designated courtyard while Isabel points out the salient features of the doll's house.
  • The girls form a "ring" around Isabel as she "held a court" in the playground.
  • Isabel chooses two girls who can return in the afternoon to see the house (perhaps at tea time). 

Outside this ring, "always outside" the ring of girls, are the two Kelvey sisters, whose mother is a washerwoman and their father "a jailbird." In fact, the Burnell girls are not allowed to even talk to the Kelvey girls. But, the Kelvey girls stand and listen, anyway. 

When Kezia decides to show the Kelvey sisters the doll's house, Lil Kelvey gasps, "Your ma told our ma you wasn't to speak to us." But, the smaller girl, Our Else, pulls on her sister's skirt until she follows Kezia. Then they hear "Kezia!" called out by Aunt Beryl.

"How dare you ask the little Kelveys into our courtyard?....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, staring as if she could not believe what she saw.

Clearly, there is an unbridgeable gap between the social classes in Katherine Mansfield's story.