What comment on society does Mansfield make, and which aspect is she criticizing in "Her First Ball"?
Locked into the human soul there is always an envious part that encourages its being to drive a gratuitous nail of cruelty into those who have what others have already lost, an envy of the joie de vivre and the delight of the innocent. Somehow, those envious and disgruntled souls must ruin the innocence of others.
Like Rousseau's child of nature, Leila comes to the urban area from the wilderness of her "forsaken upcountry home." Innocent of the interplay of society, she finds everything "heavenly," and in her open-eyed wonder she watches the happy couples dance as the girls' "little satin shoes chased each other like birds." Then, when someone's hand reached around her waist, Leila "floated away like a flower that is tossed into a pool," taking delight in all that is just beginning.
But, as chance would have it, she encounters the older man, fat with the pleasures of the flesh, jaded by the years, and he tells Leila,
"Kind little lady....you can't hope to last anything like as long as that....long before that you'll be sitting up there on the stage, looking on, in your nice black velvet....And you'll smile away like the old dears up there....And your heart will ache, ache, ache."
At first dismayed and disillusioned by these cruel words, Leila no longer wants to dance. But then she chooses to dance with a young man, and soon her feet glide again, rejecting the truth of life for the enjoyment of this night.
Here Mansfield seems to suggest that youth should be able to reject the harsh truth of life for simple pleasure. There is plenty of time for maturity to develop. At a later time, then, the cruelties of life can be admitted.