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The story is basically about a young woman whose parents have meddled in her life. The narrator, Lorna, tries to make the best of things by criticizing others. For example, she did not test into the grammar school so she talks about the mess there and the bad habits the kids pick up.
The refrain from the title, "you should have seen the mess" is repeated in this way, to discount things the narrator cannot be a part of or doesn’t understand. Mess is used as an excuse to leave things. For example, Lorna feels uncomfortable in her first job, so she decides to leave because of the rickety furniture.
After quitting her job, Lorna gets a new job at a neater and more modern facility, Lowe's Chemical Co. She makes friends with the Darby's, a doctor family who have money but a messy and unkempt house. Lorna is surprised that she likes them despite the mess. The Darby's introduce her to a chemist assistant whom she dates, but he was an orphan and only bathes once a week because that's the only time he has hot water. They then introduce her to an artist, Willy Morley, who also has an unhygienic house. They date, but he does not make advances to her and does not even paint her portrait, so Lorna decides that she cannot sink so low as to marry him.
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