Katherine Mansfield

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In "A Cup of Tea," how does Rosemary’s gift to Miss Smith differ from her initial plan?

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Initially, Rosemary plans to take on Miss Smith as a project; she is going to listen to her problems and help her, because Rosemary has suddenly embraced the idea of "noblesse oblige" and fantasizes about how she'll tell her friends about her impulsive generosity. From the outset, Rosemary's quick decision to help Miss Smith is framed by her thoughts of how her rich friends will be amused by, and admire her for, her willingness to help a bedraggled "sister" who is down on her luck.

But when Philip points out the obvious fact that Rosemary has overlooked, that Miss Smith is gorgeous, Rosemary's interest in taking her on as a charitable project is quickly abandoned. Rosemary's hesitation as to how much money—five pounds, and then three—to give Miss Smith demonstrates her true selfishness. It is hardly surprising that upon Miss Smith's departure, Rosemary's thoughts return to the superficial: an expensive trinket that she covets and whether her husband finds her "pretty."

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Initially, Rosemary wants to give Miss Smith the gift of tea and sympathy. Even though Miss Smith only asked for some money to buy herself a cup of tea, Rosemary sees this as a great opportunity to show off just how incredibly caring she is. She wants to display her social conscience for all the world to see and feel a nice warm glow inside. As an added bonus, taking Miss Smith home for tea will be such an adventure.

Rosemary puts a maternal arm round Miss Smith's shoulder as she recounts her life story. Mrs. Fell repeatedly infantilizes the young lady, referring to her as "child" on a number of occasions. Despite seeing Miss Smith as a "sister," it is clear that Rosemary is determined to maintain distinctions of rank. Nevertheless, Rosemary still feels that she is doing her good deed for the day.

All that changes when Rosemary's husband walks through the door. He is far from thrilled to find a common fishwife enjoying his wife's misguided hospitality. Playing on his wife's unconquerable superficiality, he casually passes comment on Miss Smith's astonishing good looks.

Her jealousy suitably piqued, Rosemary abruptly decides to end her brief experiment in class tourism and sends Miss Smith on her merry way with three crisp pound notes in her pocket. In a very roundabout manner, Rosemary has finally given Miss Smith the gift that she asked for in the first place.

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