Katherine Mansfield

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What is the central topic in "Life of Ma Parker" by Katherine Mansfield?

The main theme of the story is class-consciousness and isolation. Ma Parker's husband has died, and she must go to work in order to make ends meet. She works for a "literary man" who does not seem to understand how hard her life is or how much she values her husband. The conflict between Ma Parker and the literary man comes to a head when he accuses her of stealing and dismisses her as "a hag" (which means ugly old woman), and this leads to Ma Parker's final feelings of isolation, which are expressed by the pathetic fallacy at the end of the text.

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This, like so many of Katherine Mansfield's short stories, is based around class-consciousness and the completely different worlds that people of different classes live in. The central conflict is between Ma Parker and her employer, a "literary man," who is apparently writing some form of literature but seems blind to the stories and hardships of Ma Parker's life. He shows himself completely unable to understand her, and this is illustrated at numerous points in the text. My favourite example of this, however, is when, trying to comfort her, he says to her, "I hope the funeral was a--a--success." Likewise his arrogance, and condescending attitude is illustrated by his attitude towards housekeeping:

"You simply dirty everything you've got, get a hag in once a week to clean up, and the thing's done."

The dismissive way with which he labels Ma Parker as a "hag" and the manner in which he insultingly tries to show her that he is "vigilant" by almost accusing her of stealing reinforces his inability to comprehend or understand Ma Parker, and, as the narrator tells us, "this produce called Life."

Contrasted with the literary gentleman, Ma Parker is shown in all of her raw grief and suffering. We are shown the pain and isolation of a woman of her class and how there is no comfort or consolation. The main image we are left with at the end of the story is of Ma Parker seeking somewhere where she can have her "cry out--at last," and yet finding nowhere:

Ma Parker stood, looking up and down. The icy wind blew out her apron into a balloon. And now it began to rain. There was nowhere.

Note the pathetic fallacy at the end, with the rain and the icy wind mirroring Ma Parker's feelings of loneliness and isolation.

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