What do the lamp and the doll's house symbolize in the short story "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield?

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The doll's house of which the Burnell children are so proud, considering it "a perfect, perfect little house," is a false representation of upper-class wealth, breeding, and splendor because it is gaudy and unartistic. The little amber light with the white globe symbolizes warmth and comfort and a sense of belonging and welcoming, but only Kezia notices it.

Ironically, while the toy house meant to display upper-class charm, the doll's house is garish. Instead of being tastefully decorated,

[it is] a dark, oily, spinach green, picked out with bright yellow. Its two solid little chimneys, glued onto the roof, were painted red and white, and the door, gleaming with yellow varnish, was like a little slab of toffee. . . . There was actually a tiny porch, too, painted yellow with big lumps of congealed paint hanging along the edge.

Because the toy house belongs to an enviable upper-class family, no one comments on the garish colors and lumps of paint. Instead, the other girls are envious of it, and they wait eagerly to be selected by the Burnell girls to view this elite object. In adherence to the rules of her class, the eldest assumes the vital position of choosing the ones who are allowed to see the house. In fact, as the girls vie to be near Isabel, forming a ring around the eldest Burnell girl, their movements are compared to a royal court. Only the little Kelvey girls are on the outside. They are the daughters of the poor class: their mother is a washerwoman who must support the family because her husband is rumored to be "a jailbird."

Were they living in England, the Burnell girls would attend a school in which only upper-class children went; the commoners would be in another part of the city and attend schools there. But in New Zealand, the probable setting of this story, the school is the only one for miles, so all social classes of children attend the same school.

But the line had to be drawn somewhere. It was drawn at the Kelveys.

The other girls taunt the poor Kelvey girls. One day as these two girls are eating their dinner under the pine trees, Lena Logan approaches the isolated Kelveys. She boldly asks,

"Is it true you're going to be a servant when you grow up Lil Kelvey?"

Because Lil only responds with a humble smile, Lena is livid and calls out, "Yah, yer father's in prison!" The other girls are thrilled by Lena's insult.

Later, as the Burnell girls ride home with Pat, who brings the buggy for them, they talk excitedly. Once they reach home, the girls see that they have guests and run upstairs to change their clothes. However, warm-hearted Kezia, who has been particularly delighted by the amber lamp inside the doll's house, "thieve[s] out the back" of the house where no one is near. She watches as the Kelvey girls come toward her. Kezia swings out on her gate and invites them to come and see the doll's house. But Lil shakes her head and turns red. "Why not?" asks Kezia. Lil tells her that her mother told their mother that Kezia is not permitted to speak to the Kelvey girls. Kezia does not know how to respond. She decides to ignore this remark, telling the girls that no one is watching and they can just come and look. Then, as Kezia opens the little house for the girls, Aunt Beryl, who has caught sight of the girls outside, rushes out the back door. She scolds Kezia and quickly tells Lil and Else, "Off you go immediately!" Lil and Else scurry away, "[B]urning with shame, shrinking together." 

When they stop to rest, Lil's cheeks still burn from the insulting words of Aunt Beryl. Else scoots close to her sister, observing, "I seen the lamp." The warmth of the amber glass and its suggestion of light have been like a light of kindness extended to the Kelvey girls, as well as the warmth of being included.

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The doll house is symbolic of the upper class people in this society. The Burnell children would have attended a ritzy private school had there been one nearby, but as it is, their school is the only one for miles, so they are forced to attend a school that has a mixed group of children - both high class and low class. The Kelveys are the low class children. Note that the doll house is "perfect". All the walls are papered, there is carpet, but the dolls in the house, the people, are "stiff" -- they don't seem to belong there, and then there is that smell:

But perfect, perfect little house! Who could possibly mind the smell?

The doll house may be perfect, but what it represents "stinks". The smell is the only negative thing about the house. The smell represents the cruelty of society.

The best thing about the house is the little lamp.

But what Kezia liked more than anything, what she liked frightfully, was the lamp. It stood in the middle of the dining-room table, an exquisite little amber lamp with a white globe.

The lamp always reminds me of the the song, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine..." because it represents the one, tiny shred of human kindness, the kindness that is only shown by Kezia in the story when she invites the Kelveys to see the house. While her snobby family is singing, "Hide it under a bushel" Kezia answers: "NO! I'm gonna let it shine."

Read about the story here on eNotes.

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