Discussion Topic

Analysis and Genre of "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield

Summary:

"The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield is a modernist short story that explores themes of social class and inequality. Through the interactions between the Burnell sisters and the Kelvey children, Mansfield critiques the rigid class distinctions of early 20th-century society. The story uses symbolism, particularly the doll's house itself, to highlight the superficiality and exclusion inherent in these social structures.

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What is your opinion of "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield?

Katherine Mansfield's story is as relevant today as it was at the time of her writing. For, it is still true that socio-economic class buys many things, but it cannot purchase happiness and human warmth, the greatest riches of all.

While there are many more opportunities for social mobility, nevertheless, there are still many people today who have certain attitudes towards others based solely upon socio-economic stratification. Certainly, this snobbery is exemplified in Mansfield's story with the behavior of the Burnell girls Isabel and Lottie, as well as in the conduct of Aunt Beryl, who places much value on appearances and social and economic status.
What is interesting, though, is that these Burnells must find their enjoyment in material possessions and adulation, or in their ridicule of others, all of which are merely temporal furnishings of their social class. But, Kezia Burnell sees more in the doll's house as her attention is drawn to the "exquisite little amber lamp" that may well symbolize the warmth of human feeling. So, after the Kelvey girls are excluded from seeing the doll's house, Kezia, who has delighted in the lamp from the first glance, asks if she may invite the Kelveys once. When her request is denied, she rebels against this snobbery in the interest of kindness and warmth, and invites the Kelvey girls to see the little house. Lil and our Else get a quick look before they are run off by Aunt Beryl.

Afterwards, rather than just having the fawning adulation of other girls or the ownership of such a thing as the doll's house, our Else enjoys a gift that is much more significant and lasting. She smiles "her rare smile" and says "softly" to her sister, "I seen the little lamp." Her pleasure is not superficial and ephemeral as is that of the Burnell's; her delight is in the human warmth shown to her sister and her by Kezia Burnell, a warmth that will always last in her memory. In the end, therefore, it is the Kelvey sisters who are richer for the experience of seeing the doll's house.

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What is your opinion of "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield?

Obviously, everyone will have different opinions, but for me, I really enjoyed this story and also enjoy teaching it. It seems to capture so much about society and how we learn the norms and values of our society. Notice how the Burnell sisters are propogating the values of characters such as Aunt Beryl, who seem to love putting people below them in their place and flaunting their superiority. However, what I appreciated most about this story was the ray of hope offered by Kezia in allowing the Kelveys to see the house and in particular the symbolism of the red lamp that seems to capture the hope of a world free from injustice and prejudice.

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What are the literary criticisms related to the story of "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield?

Central to understanding the story is realising how Mansfield is using the Kelvey sisters and the way they are treated to point out how cruelly class distinctions lead others to treat those who occupy the lowest rungs of society. Let us remember that Mansfield was writing at a time when class distinctions in New Zealand were still maintained very strictly, if not even more than in Britain. Thus it is that we see a microcosm of society with different social classes. But Mansfield seems to suggest that there is always a class that is not accepted:

But the line had to be drawn somewhere. It was drawn at the Kelveys.... Even the teacher had a special voice for them, and a special smile for th eother children when Lil Kelvey came up to her desk with a bunch of dreadfully common-looking flowers.

Note how even the teacher, the person who should be treating all of her students equally, is shown to discriminate against the Kelveys. This raises one of the more sinister and rather disturbing theme that this story raises: the way that higher classes, including the children belonging to those classes, enjoy and take pleasure in the cruelty and abuse that they can inflict on people like the Kelveys. The end of the story, for example, suggests that Aunt Beryl finds something cathartic in abusing the Kelveys having been pursued herself about money owing:

The afternoon had been awful. A letter had come from Willie Brent, a terrifying, threatening letter, saying if she did not meet him that evening in Pulman's Bush, he'd come to the front door and ask the reason why! But now that she had frightened those little rats of Kelveys and given Kezia a good scolding, her heart felt lighter. That ghastly pressure was gone. She went back to the house humming.

Note how this scene finds its parallel in the story when the Burnells and friends make fun of the Kelveys cruelly, and become 'wild with joy' as a result. Thus any criticism of this story needs to explore how snobbery and cruelty are legitimised by class distinctions, however cruel and barbaric that leads people to become in their behaviour.

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What genre is "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield?

Genre is a word that refers to any category or identifiable type of literature or art form. Of course, there are many different types of genres around, and you might like to think about the way in which we apply genres much more commonly to films in our everyday speech and understanding than we do to works of literature. Thus we go to see a horror film or a romantic comedy, or an action film or a drama. These are examples of genres because they help divide up art forms into various groups or categories for us to compare and contrast them with other similar or like art forms.

Thus when we consider "The Doll's House," the simple answer is that its genre is a short story. The short story is a distinct literary form into which Mansfield's work falls which stands by itself and allows us to group short stories together so that they can be studied and compared.

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