Her First Ball Questions and Answers
by Katherine Mansfield

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Assess if the old, fat man is symbolic representative of Leila's fear of growing old.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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On one level, the old, fat man who speaks of what the future might hold for Leila could serve as a symbolic representation of her own fears.  This can be seen in her reaction to what the man says:  "She leaned against the wall, tapping with her foot, pulling up her gloves and trying to smile. But deep inside her a little girl threw her pinafore over her head and sobbed. Why had he spoiled it all?"  Certainly, the idea of the old man having "spoiled it all" might be due to the harsh reality he reveals, a reality that triggers in Leila her worst fears.

Yet, with this in mind, I would suggest that Leila does not fully see what the old man says as a symbolic representation of her fears.  Leila is not paralyzed with fear as to what the old man has said.  The ending of the story sees her continuing to dance and refusing to even acknowledge the old man as she does so.  It is a moment in which Leila understands the condition of the world around her and partakes in it.  She is not separated from it by fear.  While she might recognize what he says as a reflection of her fears, she is not separated from the world because of it and the ending is one in which she has either rationalized or simply moved on from it.  Both reactions do not suggest the terrifying reality of a symbolic representation of individual fears.

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