“The Singing Lesson” by Katherine Mansfield is a commentary on how social pressure can affect the perception and confidence of women. Miss Meadows, the main character of the story, is a 30-year-old music teacher. She was recently engaged to Basil, a man five years younger than her, though the morning...
“The Singing Lesson” by Katherine Mansfield is a commentary on how social pressure can affect the perception and confidence of women. Miss Meadows, the main character of the story, is a 30-year-old music teacher. She was recently engaged to Basil, a man five years younger than her, though the morning of the story he sent her a telegram telling her that he was ending their engagement,
“Not that I do not love you. I love you as much as it is possible for me to love any woman, but, to tell the truth I have come to the conclusion that I am not a marrying man, and the idea of settling down fills me with nothing but — and the word "disgust" was scratched out lightly and "regret" written over the top.”
While he later recants, saying he was “mad” when he wrote the earlier letter, it stands out that he used the word disgust. Miss Meadows, for her part, is mostly marrying him out of desperation to fulfill social expectations. She says,
But, my darling, if you love me," thought Miss Meadows, "I don't mind how much you love me. Love me as little as you like." But she knew he didn't love her. Not to have cared enough to scratch out that word "disgust," so that she couldn’t read it.
Miss Meadows knows that deep down their relationship is a scam, and there is some indication that Basil might be gay. He says in his telegram that he loves her “as much as it is possible for me to love any woman"—which has the thinly veiled implication that their marriage is not only to fulfill social pressure for her but also for him. He implies that he would instead not marry any woman and that the “non-love” she thinks he feels for her, is as much as he can love a woman—something that points to his closeted homosexuality.
Meadows, in turn, is so strongly desiring to fulfill the social role that she overlooks the apparent problems with their relationship. She is willing to put herself in a loveless relationship, fail to teach well, and even lets her entire demeanor be predicated on her attachment to this man who doesn’t care about her as a husband should care about a wife. Meadows is willing to sacrifice self-respect and even happiness in the pursuit of social clout and position, a scathing commentary on what social pressure can do to a woman.