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The Doll's House by Katherine Mansfield is a short story with a familiar theme. The reader recognizes the superior tone and the hypocritical behavior of the opinionated Aunt Beryl and the rest of the Burnell family. The doll's house may be a "perfect, perfect little house" but this belies the sentiments in the household. It is interesting to note that the dolls in the house are not quite so perfect and, in fact, they seem too big for the house. In keeping with the theme, the dolls seem as if they do not belong. This guides the reader to an understanding that, even when something looks perfect on the outside, it may not be quite so ideal when all is revealed.
The Burnell children are anxious to show all their friends. They are so excited that they argue over who will tell whom what first. Many of the children at school are class-conscious, no doubt basing their views on their parents' own narrow-mindedness. They mix at school with children from all backgrounds "but the line had to be drawn somewhere," with the result that Our Else and Lil, the daughters of a "hardworking little washerwoman" even accept their own exclusion because they "knew better" than to even try to be accepted.
In the doll's house, the one thing that is just right is the lamp; "the lamp was real," thinks Kezia. The lamp is significant for her, whose kindness far exceeds Aunt Beryl's prejudice. Kezia sees things for what they are, just as she can see the inappropriate dolls. She ultimately understands that this attitude is wrong and she bravely invites the girls to come and see the house. Despite their differences, it is interesting to note that both Kezia and Our Else recognize the significance of the lamp and all it represents. They both find contentment in the lamp and the inner peace it seems to bring.
The central sentence from which the story forms (in my opinion) can be found in the paragraph commencing with "Playtime came and Isabel was surrounded." The reader witnesses the fickle nature of the children, even as they relate to other children who are seemingly like them. They clamor around Isabel only because they want to glimpse the doll's house. To be her "special friend" is their aim. Sadly, they are self-serving and conceited. The sentence "And the only two who stayed outside the ring were the two who were always outside, the little Kelveys," sets the tone and theme of the short story.
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