An absolutely lyric piece of writing, "Her First Ball" is composed using the tempo of a waltz with its wording. In this story, Katherine Mansfield relates Leila's first experience of the bitter-sweetness of maturing. Excitedly arriving at a ball where she will actually dance with boys, the main character Leila is thrilled by the glamor of the surroundings and the well-dressed young men and beautiful girls who charge the air with the gaiety and excitement of youth. However, just as Leila feels her happiness is complete as she dances, it is dampened by the cruelty of the old man who cuts in, and with perverse amusement tells her that someday she, too, will be old and sit upstairs with her black dress and black fan as the old ladies now do. It is then in the narrative that the tempo slows and the tone becomes melancholic.
Nonetheless, this moment of truth only deters Leila briefly from enjoying herself. For, she rejects the morose thoughts--"Why didn't happiness last for ever?--that are prompted by his remark, and she resumes her enjoyment of the moment, ignoring this fat man and his words. Reflecting her resolve, the tempo of the story accelerates.
The student may wish to read the summary provided by Enotes [see the link below] which provides more details. Then, questions can be formed regarding the major elements of the plot, such as those about the exposition, the conflicts, the climax, and the falling action and denouement. Here are some others:
- How do Leila's impressions of the ball change throughout the story?
- In what way does Leila display her ingenuousness?
- How does she react to the old man who interrupts her mood?
- What changes occur in Leila throughout the story?
- At the conclusion of the story, has Leila matured? If so, in what way? If not, how so?
There is also a quiz on the story at this site: http://www.enotes.com/quizzes/her-first-ball-by-katherine-mansfield-997 and trivia at http://www.enotes.com/topics/her-first-ball/trivia
Since discussion questions usually relate to characterization and theme, the student may wish to peruse what Enotes provides under these two topics, themes and in-depth [see the other 2 links below that list theme and an analysis of the story]. In addition, here are some questions that can be used,
- In what ways does Leila display her naivete in the exposition of the story? How has her environment contributed to this naivete?
- Of what two existential things does Leila become aware as the evening wears on?
- How does the author utilize imagery and language that is connotative (suggestive) in describing the setting as so appealing to Leila?
- What effect does the limited third-person point of view have upon the story?
- What is meant by Leila's thought, "She was only at the beginning of everything. It seemed to her that she had never known what the night was like before"?
- How does the fat man know it is Leila's first ball?
- What epiphany does Leila experience? How does she react after having this epiphany?