Discussion Topic

Leila's feelings and thoughts before the ball in "Her First Ball" and how Mansfield portrays them

Summary:

Before the ball, Leila feels a mix of excitement and nervousness. Mansfield portrays these emotions through Leila's vivid observations and inner monologue, capturing her anticipation and the sensory overload of the event. The author uses rich, descriptive language to convey Leila's youthful enthusiasm and the magical atmosphere of her first ball experience.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are Leila's feelings before the ball in "Her First Ball"?

Leila, the main character of "Her First Ball" is indirectly described as a girl who lives in an area that is quite isolated from the excitement of the city. In fact she even says that her closest neighbor lives 15 miles away. This is why this event, her first ball, is such a rare and exciting ocasion.

She tried not to smile too much; she tried not to care. But every single thing was so new and exciting.

On her way to the ball she has a variety of emotions. First, she feels almost as if to cry when she sees the dynamics between Laurie and Laura; she would have loved to have a brother that would call her by a nickname, such as "Twig". Everything Leila saw she felt like holding as a keepsake.

It is fair to say that Leila did not feel as wordly or sophisticated as her friends; she is an only child, she lives in the country, and this is her first ball. It is clear that she has not experienced what her friends have.

Yet, what is salient about Leila's experience is that she sees everything much more glittering, much more enticing and exciting than what it really is. This is not a bad thing; after all, she is going through a rite of passage which is proper of girls of her class. However, the height of her excitement is precisely what will deflate her later with the advent of the fat man.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Describe the significance of Leila's feelings as she enters the ball.

For Leila, her entrance into the ball are significant because they represent a girl's first foray into the conditioned world of what it means to be a woman.  Leila is possessed by a sense of excitement at the world of possibility that awaits her.  She is held by the sway of what can be for her first ball's feelings represent the journey of maturation and no longer being considered a child.  She is taken back by the superficial elements of this rite of passage, as well.  The setting, the clothes, the dancing, and the appearances to others are all elements that comprise her initial feelings of excitement.  Adding to this is the reality that her own experience of living in the rural setting in contrast to the ball's urbane condition are part of Leila's initial feelings.  When she remarks that seeing the people dance is akin to seeing the "little satin shoes" chasing "each other like birds," it represents how Leila feels about this experience, in terms of her feelings of amazement and of being overwhelmed with the moment.  This is significant it that it enables Mansfield to construct a setting in to which one can see how girls can become entranced with the social condition that locks them into gender- specific roles.  If Lelia is not so taken in with what she sees initially, it makes it easier for her to be able to reject these elements.  Yet, in such an initial reaction, Mansfield is making it clear that part of what proves to be so alluring and enticing to young girls is also what ensnares them into a social condition through which one becomes trapped, to an extent, into what society wishes one to be.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Mansfield portray Leila's feelings in the story "Her First Ball"?

This is a tough question.  On one hand, I think that Mansfield denies or prevents Leila's feelings through not raising questions or objections to how women are perceived socially.  She is bothered by what the fat man says.  She is also bothered by how they are true.  Essentially, Lelia is bothered by the construction of what is.  Yet, Mansfield does not show her outwardly rejecting this or taking a stand in defiance of it.  Rather, Leila goes back to dancing, even bumping into the fat man, and regaling in a social construction that she might internally oppose.  Mansfield prevents or denies articulation of her feelings to demonstrate the point of what the social order does to women.  In Mansfield's silencing of Leila, to a great extent, she is merely demonstrating what society does to women when it places so much primacy on physical appearance and the emphasis on beauty.  It is this where Leila's feelings are denied primarily because women in this configuration are expected to have nothing more than a physicality to them.  When this goes, so they do.  In this, there is a distinct silencing of voice, something that Mansfield does in demonstration of her opposition to what society does.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Mansfield portray Leila's thoughts in "Her First Ball"?

Mansfield reveals Leila's thoughts through narrator commentary, indirect speech, free indirect speech, and sensory and psychological reactions. She opens the narrative with narrator commentary in which she exposes Leila's thoughts as one who is privy to Leila's every thought: "Exactly when the ball began Leila would have found it hard to say."

Indirect speech is a technique in which a characters words are stated by the narrator without benefit of direct quotation: "That was the great difference between dancing with girls and men, Leila decided."

Free indirect speech, a technique Jane Austen excels in, takes indirect speech one step further and gives the characters thoughts as though one were directly listening in to the character's thoughts:

Why didn't the men begin? What were they waiting for? There they stood, smoothing their gloves, patting their glossy hair and smiling among themselves.

Finally, Mansfield reveals Leila's thoughts through recounting her sensory and psychological reactions:

  • Leila ... felt that even the little quivering coloured flags strung across the ceiling were talking.
  • The azaleas were separate flowers no longer; they were pink and white flags streaming by.
  • She quite forgot to be shy ....

One modernist technique Mansfield does not use is stream of consciousness. While this term may be loosely used by some to cover other techniques that reveal a character's inner thoughts, like free indirect speech, for example, the definitive elements of fragmentation and randomness that mark stream of consciousness are missing from Mansfield's techniques in "Her First Ball."

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Mansfield portray Leila's thoughts in "Her First Ball"?

Leila is certainly not worldly as are some of the other girls or world-weary as is the fat man.  As the title of Mansfield's story denotes, Leila is inexperienced and naive, having grown up in the country and learned to dance without benefit of masculine partners.

An ingenue, Leila finds each experience thrilling; it is all "the beginning of everything" for her.

Oh, dear, how hard it was to be indifferent like the others!....For it was thrilling. Her first ball!

Everything seems new to her; the night, for instance, Leila feels has merely been dark and mournful before now. But, on this evening, it has "opened dazzling bright." Even when the fat, older man makes her aware of age and mortality, Leila rejects this truth and in her resilience, she seizes the excitement of the moment and glides through the evening, smiling "more radiantly than ever."

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Mansfield portray Leila's thoughts in "Her First Ball"?

Leila [might have said] Perhaps her first real partner was the cab. It did not matter that she shared the cab with the Sheridan girls and their brother. She sat back in her own little corner of it, and the bolster on which her hand rested felt like the sleeve of an unknown young man's dress suit;

I think that one distinct way in which Mansfield does not present Lelia is in a simplistic and reductive manner.  Mansfield shows Lelia to be overcome with the moment, but also moving back and forth between memories of her past as well the emotional timbre of the moment.  Mansfield shows Lelia in a complex and nuanced manner.  She is far from simplistic and far from being a caricature.  It is for this reason that Mansfield does not show Lelia to be a one- dimensional character.

Another way that Mansfield does not depict Lelia is with a false and arbitrary ending.  The ending of the story is one in which Lelia has recognized both the joy in the moment and has also acknowledged what the fat man has said.  The ball being both a moment of triumph and of disillusion is a reflection of life, itself.  There is intricacy, complicated notions of identity, and anything far from a resolution.  Mansfield understands this as she has constructed Lelia's narrative.  Due to this, she has not depicted the ending as one where there is simplicity and a "happy ending."  It is a realistic one.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Mansfield portray Leila's thoughts in "Her First Ball"?

Mansfield presents Leila's thoughts as buzzing with anticipation and excitement both before and during the ball.  Being able use a narrative voice that captures how Leila feels and appears to the world, Mansfield is able to display the sense of energy that is such a part of Leila's world in term of her reactions to the ball:

EXACTLY when the ball began Leila would have found it hard to say. Perhaps her first real partner was the cab. It did not matter that she shared the cab with the Sheridan girls and their brother. She sat back in her own little corner of it, and the bolster on which her hand rested felt like the sleeve of an unknown young man's dress suit; and away they bowled, past waltzing lamp-posts and houses and fences and trees.

Mansfield is able to present Leila as one who is so excited about the ball that the cab acts as "her first real" partner.  

Such zeal is described and drawn out during the ball, as well.  The "burst of tuning from the drill hall, it leaped almost to the ceiling" is one such example.  Leila's absorption of the excitement and energy of the powder room is another example of her intense feelings in being drawn into the ball.  This continues with the discourse about "the beautifully slippery floor," pink satins, as well as Leila's recalling her boarding school dance lessons contribute to the energy that Leila feels in being at her first ball.  

This excitement and willingness to capitulate to the moment is evident in the final passage of the story.  Leila is shown to have chosen the love of the ball over the reality that the fat man articulates:

But presently a soft, melting, ravishing tune began, and a young man with curly hair bowed before her. She would have to dance, out of politeness, until she could find Meg. Very stiffly she walked into the middle; very haughtily she put her hand on his sleeve. But in one minute, in one turn, her feet glided, glided. The lights, the azaleas, the dresses, the pink faces, the velvet chairs, all became one beautiful flying wheel. And when her next partner bumped her into the fat man and he said, "Pardon," she smiled at him more radiantly than ever. She didn't even recognise him again.

The "ravishing tune" that is "soft, melting" allows her to smile "more radiantly than ever."  It allows Leila to think about the moment rather than the reality that exists outside of it.  Mansfield is able to show how zeal and delusion can help to silence judgment in the embrace of what is as opposed to what will be.  Mansfield shows Leila's thoughts to exist in this paradigm.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on