What is a critical analysis of the story "The Singing Lesson" by Katherine Mansfield?
“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.
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"The Singing Lesson" opens with Miss Meadows in the position of jilted lover, details her thought process regarding the embarrassment of a failed engagement, and concludes with her willing return to the relationship after a telegrammed apology from her fiancé, Basil. The story initially highlights Miss Meadows's utter despair, and although her feelings are undoubtedly hurt by Basil's rejection, she seems most concerned with what others will think upon hearing of the failed engagement. She is aware that Basil doesn't love her and may even be under another woman's influence but nonetheless forgives his betrayal immediately. As a single thirty-year-old woman, she is aware that her options for another marriage are limited, a large motivator in maintaining peace with Basil.
Miss Meadows utilizes song selection to express her emotional state in the classroom, encouraging students to deeply connect with and express themselves through music. After first transferring her intense feelings of despair to the class through a mournful lament, she later disregards all negativity and and encourages students to enter a state of naive happiness via a lighthearted song. The contrast in Miss Meadows's countenance before and after receiving the telegram demonstrates that appearances are of utmost importance to her. As long as she is able to maintain the illusion of an ideal life, she will happily pursue a loveless marriage to Basil and maintain a cheerful facade.
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