What is the main theme of Mansfield's "Her First Ball"?
The theme of "Her First Ball" is one related to the pangs of growing up, one might say it is the lighter side of a coming of age story. Leila attends her first ball, all nerves and dreams, and finds the disillusionment of reality confront her in the form of "quite an old man--fat, with a big bald patch on his head." The theme is thus that even though youth may be disillusioned, it has the strength and self-renewal to bounce back and be youthfully caught up in sensations and buoyant once again.
Mansfield draws the dichotomy between the two, youthful dreams and disillusioned reality, vividly. She describes the sister's behavior and adornments, like "Meg's tuberoses, Jose's long loop of amber, Laura's little dark head." The narrator informs us of Leila's thoughts, such as, "Oh how marvellous to have a brother ... [who] said 'Twig?'." She describes the whole assemblage before the start of the ball gathered in the ladies' cloak room, with one voice lamenting the absence of "any invisible hairpins"!
In contrast, she describes the chaperons--who usually go unremarked in literature--as they walk down the center of the hall before the ball opens to take their places in their "dark dresses, [while] smiling rather foolishly, [walking] with little careful steps over the polished floor."
The theme is pronounced in the ending when Leila's next gallant partner, who whirled her through a "wheel" of sensations, "bumped her into the fat man." In the glow of her own radiant beaming smile, "[she] didn't even recognize him again."
The lights, the azaleas, the dresses, the pink faces, the velvet chairs, all became one beautiful flying wheel
The theme is pronounced as these sensations of the joy of youth drive out the looming reality, innocence rebounds from disillusionment, and strength overcomes a distant shadowy future.