The upper-class Burnells consider the fact that the father of the Kelvey children is absent and rumored to be in prison the most "awful" thing about them.
In Katherine Mansfield's story, upper- and lower-class children attend the same school in New Zealand (still a British colony at the time) because of the shortage of schools. These circumstances place the Burnells with children of middle and lower incomes. Nevertheless, England's rigid class system has been brought along to this country by the British colonists. Therefore, the Burnell children are forbidden by their cold and class-conscious Aunt Beryl to have any association with the poor Kelvey sisters.
The Kelvey girls, Lil and Elsey, are the daughters of "a washerwoman and a jailbird. Very nice company for other people's children!"
These girls are excluded from viewing the doll's house—"the perfect, perfect little house"—that the Burnell girls have received from old Mrs. Hay when the oldest girl, Isabel, places it on display for her classmates to see and envy. Yet, it is only Kezia Burnell who perceives something marvelous about the little lamp that stands on the dining room table of the miniature house, while the other girls revel in being chosen by the elite Isabel.
This little lamp comes to symbolize the light of kindness sparked in Kezia, who defies her haughty aunt's dictum that the Kelvey children are allowed nowhere near her and her sisters. She brings the girls into her courtyard to show them the beautiful doll's house. After they are driven away by Aunt Beryl when she catches Kezia in her disobedient act, the girls stop to rest on the side of the road. "I seen the little lamp," Else whispers to her sister.