Katherine Mansfield Questions and Answers

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What is the significance of the dream that Mr. Neave has?

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The question refers to Mansfield’s story “An Ideal Family.” Mr. Neave’s dream life articulates his fears and anxieties about how life has passed him by, his loneliness in the midst of his family, and his anxiety about death. Mr. Neave dreams of a “withered ancient man climbing up endless flights of stairs.“ It’s clear that the man in the dream is in some way representative of Mr. Neave himself, an old man who feels that life, and particularly his family, has become too much; he “hadn’t the energy” to stand the “gaiety” and “bright movement” of his children and wife. The laborious going up and down of stairs in the dream mimics Mr. Neave’s own walk back to the house from his office—he “stumped along, lifting his knees high as if we were walking through air that had somehow grown heavy and solid like water.” For all the happiness of his “ideal” family, Mr. Neave feels ignored or forgotten. When he goes upstairs to dress for dinner, he falls asleep and dreams that the old man is climbing down to the dining room, but to his horror the man climbs down past the dining room, goes out the door, and heads for the office. Mr. Neave panics: “Stop him, stop him, somebody!” He wonders why his daughters don’t intervene, or his son Harold. But he understands that he cannot expect any real care or understanding from his family. The story ends with Mr. Neave falling back into a dream, this time of a “little and pale” face that he recognized as his wife, saying, “Good-bye, my treasure,” then being roused to come downstairs to dinner like the man in his dream.

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