From what point of view is the story "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield told? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Katherine Mansfield's story "The Doll's House" has an omniscient narrator who enters the minds of different characters at various points in the story. With this technique, Mansfield intently focuses on characterization and the revelation of psychological truths.

With the theme of social stratification, Mansfield allows the reader to perceive the world as the Burnells do, and then as the Kelveys perceive it, in order to create contrasts.

After the Burnell children receive the doll house, as it rests in the courtyard, the girls have permission to ask the others from school to view it, but not to stay for tea or anything: "just to stand quietly in the courtyard while Isabel points out the beauties [...]"

As the Burnell girls hurry to school, Isabel informs her sisters that she will do the telling because she is the oldest. Isabel is characterized by Mansfield through the eyes of Lottie and Kezia:

Isabel was bossy, but she was always right, and Lottie and Kezia knew too well the powers that went with being eldest. They brushed through the thick buttercups at the road edge and said nothing. “And I’m to choose who’s to come and see it first. Mother said I might.”

That afternoon, then, girls come to see the doll house under the tall pines at the side of the playground, and they exclaim in delight. Isabel holds "quite a court" under the trees. Her sister Kezia reminds her to tell the girls about the oil lamp: "'The lamp's the best of all,' cried Kezia." She does not think Isabel speaks of the lamp enough as the girls admire the house. Afterwards, the girls put their arms around Isabel, declaring her their "special friend."

Only the little Kelveys moved away forgotten; there was nothing more for them to hear.

The Kelvey girls are the daughters of a washerwoman and a father who is rumored to be in prison. They are social outcasts.

The Kelveys were shunned by everybody. Even the teacher had a special voice for them, and a special smile for the other children when Lil Kelvey came up to her desk with a bunch of dreadfully common-looking flowers. 

Mansfield uses much description of the Kelveys, who are not considered good company for any of the other children. She mentions how the smaller sister clings to the skirt of the other as they are excluded from whatever the others are engaged in. Nevertheless, Kezia Burnell wants to invite them to see the doll's house.

“Mother,” said Kezia, “can’t I ask the Kelveys just once?”
“Certainly not, Kezia.”
“But why not?”
“Run away, Kezia; you know quite well why not.” 

When Kezia invites the Kelveys to see the doll's house, anyway, Lil tells Kezia that her mother told theirs that Kezia was not to speak to them. However, Kezia replies, "Don't you want to?" Then, just as she starts to show it to the girls, her Aunt Beryl calls out, "Kezia!" scolding her niece for talking to the Kelvey girls.

"Run away, children, run away at once. And don't come back." She...shooed them out as if they were chickens.

Then she calls her niece a "wicked, disobedient girl." Aunt Beryl gains a sense of power in humiliating the Kelvey girls. And, her actions do not differ from those of the girls who have taunted Lil in the schoolyard. Nor do they differ much from what Kezia's mother said to her: "Run away Kezia."
After the Kelveys are out of sight, the girls rest by the side of the road. "Dreamily" they both survey their surroundings.

Presently our Else nudged up close to her sister....She put out a finger and stroked her sister's quill, she smiled her rare smile.
"I seen the little lamp," she said.

Our Else has sensed the light of friendship coming from Kezia, and it feels delightful.

By using the type of narration that Mansfield does, she is able to fully develop both character and theme. The use of an omniscient narrator who enters characters' minds helps to define the motives of these characters and to make their actions comprehensible. 

Read the study guide:
The Doll's House

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