What are the themes in "The Dolls House"  

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Doll's House", by Katherine Mansfield, is a story that treats the topics of social inequality, injustice, money as a tool of power, the shallowness of human dynamics.

Social inequality, although not in itself a rarity, is treated from the perspective of adults and the way that they teach their children to distance themselves from others based on social status. The wealthy Burnell girls receive a very unique and expensive gift: the rare scale-model doll house that other little girls would only dream to have. However, it is the adults (the Burnell's mother) who teaches the girls that there is such a thing as being different; in her case, she instills in the girls the feeling that, just by social ranking, they are superior.

"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."

Injustice comes in the form of how the other girls view and treat the Kelveys just for being poor. The Kelveys are teased and verbally abused because they are the daughters of a washerwoman and an unknown father.

"Is it true you're going to be a servant when you grow up, Lil Kelvey?" shrilled Lena.
Dead silence. But instead of answering, Lil only gave her silly, shame-faced smile.

In the story, money is the powerful tool that defines happiness and popularity. The girls with money ate together at school enjoying mutton sandwiches and jelly cakes. The Kelvey's on the other hand, sat together and ate their blobbed jam sandwiches.  The Kelveys also lacked the means to wear nice clothes and all that they wore were ill-fitting hand-me-downs. This is how money differentiates a good life from a miserable one. 

Finally, the shallowness of human dynamics is treated from the perspective of the girls at school. They all befriended the Burnells for the sake of the doll's house. The Burnell's aunt Beryl kicked the Kelveys out of the house simply because of the reputation that the people have unfairly bestowed upon them. Still it is interesting that it is Kezia Burnell who invites the Kelveys to see the doll's house regardless of all the negative things that she has been told.

Your ma told our ma you wasn't to speak to us."
"Oh, well," said Kezia. She didn't know what to reply. "It doesn't matter. You can come and see our doll's house all the same. Come on. Nobody's looking."

Therefore, the topics in the story include money as it affects human dynamics and in the way that it diffentiates one another.

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The Doll's House

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