The theme of this postmodernist tale, set sometime before 1921 though first published in 1921, is a classic coming of age theme. Mansfield describes a young woman's first encounter with the wider world. That the wider world is represented as a ball, rather than a misadventure of some variety, indicates an implied criticism of her heroine's inner character and understanding about life. Nonetheless, Mansfield makes Leila a country girl and a single child, so the burden of her weakness are equally divided between nature and nurture.
"You see, I've lived in the country all my life up till now. . . . "
The point of the theme Mansfield seems to be portraying is that young women who are shallow and naive enough can easily overlook reality and live on their dreams of glory.
She didn't even recognise [the Fat Man] again.
Some read this postmodernist story thinking Leila is already wise about the eventual ravages of time to youth and beauty and is only disillusioned by the Fat Man's callousness and wicked pleasure at seeing her sad response to his words. This interpretation can strongly be contested and an opposite interpretation put forward.
It can be said that Leila does not realize the quick demise of youth and beauty.
how hard it was to be indifferent like the others!
It can be said she is devastate by the Fat Man's words, not his attitude.
Was it-- ... It sounded terribly true. Was this first ball only the beginning of her last ball, after all?
His attitude is actually a detached matter-of-fact one that is not aimed at Leila at all, but rather is self-reflective and introspective.
moved away so gently, it was more like walking ... "that's what it is to be old!" He wheezed faintly
In other words, he is enjoying having her ear for telling important information--important to him--in the same way she was enjoying having her partners' ears for telling information important to her.
Perhaps it was a little strange that her partners were not more interested.
This interpretation, substantiated as it in the text, supports the assertion that Mansfield's postmodernist point is to portray the idea that naivete and shallowness in women contributes to the fragmentation of life and persona and blinds them to the realities of their lives and world.
very haughtily she put her hand on his sleeve. But in one minute, in one turn, her feet glided, glided. ... [then] all became one beautiful flying wheel.