What is the symbolism of the little lamp in the doll house?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The oil lamp in the story "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield, is the object entirely catches the attention of Kezia Burnell: A privileged young girl who receives the gift of a doll's house from a house-guest for her, and for her two other sisters, Isabel and Lottie.

Kezia is fixated with the 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. It was even filled all ready for lighting, though, of course, you couldn't light it. But there was something inside that looked like oil, and that moved when you shook it.....[it]was perfect. It seemed to smile to Kezia, to say, "I live here." The lamp was real.

Therefore, the symbolism of the lamp, to Kezia, is that it makes her feel welcome, as if she were part of the family that lives inside the doll's house. Like the story says:

The lamp was real.

However, on the other side of the spectrum, the very poor and underprivileged Kelvey sisters have heard about this beautiful dollhouse from the mouths of the other school children. Although the Kelveys are not allowed within the same social circle of friends as the Burnell sisters, they too develop the desire of seeing something both new, majestic, and beautiful.

Else, the elder of the Kelvey sisters, finally gets the chance to see the dollhouse only to be shooed and kicked out of the Burnell home as if they were animals. Yet, at the end of the story we see that Else feels proudĀ  and happy for having seen the lamp. This is because seeing the same thing that Kezia sees, and being able to admire the same thing that Kezia admires put Else and Kezia in a very similar status, even though it is only for a brief moment. Yet, for once Else gets to see the same world that Kezia sees, and is able to admire something the same way that Kezia does: They are the same girls who love the same things. They have only been made different by the prejudices and classicist nature of society.

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