Katherine Mansfield

Start Free Trial

What is a claim Mansfield makes about social class through her short story “A Cup of Tea”?

A claim that Mansfield makes about social class through her short story “A Cup of Tea” is that the affluent upper classes are not prepared to help the poor except from purely selfish motives. Rosemary only offers Miss Smith a cup of tea because she sees it as a bit of an adventure.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

“A Cup of Tea” can be seen as a withering satire of the selfishness and materialism of the affluent upper classes. The protagonist of the story, Rosemary Fell, is a lady of leisure who likes spending time browsing in expensive antique shops. It is on one such jaunt that she encounters a poor woman standing in the pouring rain, who asks her for the price of a cup of tea.

Seeing an opportunity to embark on a kind of adventure, Rosemary decides to take the young lady home with her, where she gives her a cup of tea. Rosemary's motives are clearly anything but pure. She doesn't help the young lady—Miss Smith, as she calls herself—out of the goodness of her heart, but simply for selfish reasons.

Rosemary sees this as nothing but an awfully big adventure from which she hopes to derive some excitement. To her, inviting Miss Smith back to her beautiful home is a way of relieving the tedium of her pampered existence.

If we didn't already know this, we're left in no doubt as to Rosemary's true motives when her husband comes home and teasingly remarks on Miss Smith's good looks. All of a sudden, it's not such an enjoyable adventure anymore for the highly insecure Rosemary. And so she quickly gives Miss Smith some money and sends her on her way.

In common with many of her class, Rosemary is only prepared to help the poor and downtrodden if it is to their own benefit in some way. Far from acknowledging Miss Smith as a human being in her own right, Rosemary only sees her as a pawn in a private little game she was playing. But once her husband came home and started observing how pretty Miss Smith was, Rosemary effectively lost control of her game and was left with no alternative but to send the poor, but strikingly beautiful, young lady on her way.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team