The Doll’s House by Katherine Mansfield
About the Author
Katherine Mansfield 1888–1923 was born in Wellington, New Zealand, the third child of a wealthy merchant father and a socially-minded mother. Her family relocated to the rural town of Karori when she was five, where she excelled in the artistic pursuits of writing and playing the cello.
Mansfield adored country living, but she felt confined by her family’s traditional ideals. Mansfield, a fiercely independent adolescent, settled in London, England, at the age of 19. She had complete creative freedom there.
Despite the fact that she lived only 34 years, Mansfield was a master of the short tale and established a distinct prose style. Her best works demonstrate her use of experimental narrative techniques to provide vivid insights into the minds of her characters. Mansfield never returned to New Zealand, but she stayed in touch with her hometown in spirit. Many of her writings, notably “The Doll’s House,” are based on her childhood memories.
About The Story
This story takes place in late 1800s New Zealand, which was then a British colony. When the British emigrated there, they brought not just their goods, but also their original land’s societal prejudices. During the period, British society was divided along tight class lines. A person’s social status was usually set by birth, and climbing the social scale was difficult. Mansfield challenged the elitist system in her fiction.
A story being told in the third person has a narrator who is not a character but rather an observer from the outside. This kind of narrator is sometimes omniscient, or all-knowing, and has the ability to expose the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters. The omniscient narrator in “The Doll’s House,” for example, discloses the private wishes of various characters, including the Burnell children.
The next morning, the Burnell children could not walk quickly enough to get to school. Before the school bell rang, they were itching to tell everyone, to describe, to—well, to brag about their doll’s house.
Unlike stories told in the first person, stories told from the perspective of an omniscient character provide a broader, and perhaps more reliable, perspective. When writers want to look at large social concerns, they frequently employ this point of view. Consider how the tale’s point of view influences the tone of the storey as you read it. Consider how the writer’s ability to present all of the characters in the story’s ideas and perspectives allows her to reveal her feelings about the events she depicts.
Summary of The Doll’s House
The Doll’s House is a short story written in the third person by Katherine Mansfield in 1922. It is told through the eyes of an omniscient narrator. Katherine Mansfield is known for her stories about the psychology of relationships, as well as social and economic injustice. This story explores issues of social class and ostracism through the eyes of two sets of school-aged sisters from disparate family circumstances.
The Doll’s House is a story from the book The Doves’ Nest and Other Stories (1923). The storey revolves around adult social and economic prejudice and its negative impact on children. The Burnells, a family of three girls, receive a doll’s house as a gift. The girls are permitted to show it off to their classmates. Two Kelvey sisters are purposefully left out of the group because they are socially inferior. Her aunt chastises the youngest Burnell child for inviting the Kelvey girls to view the doll’s house.
The storey examines how adult views influence children’s behaviour. It is seen as an undesirable practice that encourages youngsters to judge others solely based on their appearance while ignoring more crucial details such as a person’s character. It fosters bias in children and deprives them of their innocence. When Kezia invites the Kelveys to view the doll’s house, the story’s sign of hope is the sight of the two youngest tentative friendships. She represents the hope that children would be spared from the harsh materialistic standards by which people are measured.
The story delves into dark, mature subjects including class and status prejudice, as well as the marginalisation of the poor. The Kelvey girls have been subjected to racial and economic persecution. Because their mother is a washerwoman, they are thought unsuited for ‘proper’ society. Because of economic inequalities, the children are segregated at school. Their poverty causes them to be shunned by society. The other girls in the school sneer and make comments about their outfits, which are a patchwork of items donated by wealthy residents of the town. Isabel does not invite them to see the doll’s house on purpose. Because the Burnells are a powerful family, the other girls express their disdain for the Kelveys. The girls’ passivity encourages more personal attacks.
“Even the teacher had a special voice for them and a special smile for the other children when Lil Kelvey came up to her desk with a bunch of dreadfully common-looking flowers,” the children pick up this unhealthy behaviour from their teacher. Children are extremely attentive, and they pick up on subtleties and begin to imitate adults. Another example is when Emmie Cole starts a Lil’ Kim rumour.
“When Little Kelvey grows up, she will be a servant.” “O-oh, how awful!” Isabel Burnell exclaimed, her gaze falling on Emmie. Emmie had swallowed deeply and nodded to Isabel in the manner she has seen her mother do during those times. The Kelveys are seen as strange by the other youngsters, just as Lil and Else appear different to people around them due to their clothing choices.
When certain people are denied a voice, marginalisation happens. They are segregated from the rest of society and are not permitted to participate in it. Women, children, and the destitute are silenced and denied the right to tell their storey for a variety of reasons. Similar marginalisation can be seen in the Kelvey girls’ mutism in this storey.
Until the end of the storey, Lil and Else Kelvey do not talk. As a result, the reader has no idea how they feel about their school experience. They are not permitted to enter the homes of the wealthy, and even a glimpse of that way of life in the shape of a view of the doll’s house is not available to them. When Kezia invites them to see the doll’s house, they are given a voice for the first time. Aunt Beryl humiliates them as a result of their misbehaviour. Lil is visibly ashamed after the encounter, but she does not express her feelings verbally. “They crossed the big courtyard and squeezed through the white gate, burning with shame, shrinking together, Lil huddling along like her mother, our Else dazed.”
The two younger Burnell sisters are also ostracised in that they are not permitted to express their thoughts or wants. Kezia is the one who decides to invite the Kelvey girls to break the stereotype. She does this since they are the only people who are not bound by tight hierarchical rules, allowing her to share her joy over the doll’s house with them. Her aunt chastises her for striving to abolish class distinctions.
Aunt Beryl, a spinster who lives with the Burnells, is similarly marginalised. Because she is single, society forbids her from expressing her sexual impulses. She is having an affair in secret and is constantly afraid of being discovered. She hides her secret from the world because of the shame and social ostracization she is likely to endure as a result. She is now at the mercy of the man with whom she has had an affair, in addition to the pressures of preserving concealment. His threats agitate her, so she finds relief by humiliating the Kelvey kids and scolding Kezia, the story’s three defenceless and voiceless characters.
Themes of The Doll’s House
Katherine Mansfield’s “The Doll’s. House” is a story about the socioeconomic distinction, injustice, money as a tool of power or materialism, and the shallowness of human interactions.
1. The way wealthy families, such as the Kelveys, teach their children to distance themselves from others based on their social position reflects the social difference or class distinction that existed in the 1900s.
2. Injustice is manifested in the way the other girls perceive and treat the Kelveys simply because they are poor.
Because they are the daughters of a washerwoman and an unknown father, the Kelveys are teased and verbally tormented, and even the teacher, who is meant to be fair, has a specific voice for them.
3. In the story, money is portrayed as a powerful tool that defines happiness and popularity.
Girls with money dine together at school, enjoy special foods, and dress nicely, whereas poor girls eat jam sandwiches and wear ill-fitting, tattered clothes.This demonstrates that money has also controlled human life.
4. The shallowness of human dynamics is mirrored in the girls’ school behaviour. For the sake of the doll’s house, they all became friends with Burnells. Because they are poor, the two Kelveys are compared to animals throughout the storey.
Class distinctions, according to Katherine Mansfield, are unjust and cruel. The concept addressed in this storey serves as a reminder from the author that people should be regarded as individuals rather than by their familial background.
As a result, the issues in the storey include money in terms of how it affects human dynamics and how it differs from one another.
Kezia Burnell and her sister Lottie receive a magnificent dollhouse as a present in the storey. Kezia is particularly taken with the lamp installed in the dollhouse’s modest dining area. She is so taken with it that she thinks it is the nicest thing ever because it appears so real.
However, the lamp takes on a special significance when we realise that it is the one item that Kezia adores and talks about the most. Nobody seems to listen to her, either within or beyond her circle…except Else! She takes Kezia’s words at face value and dreams about the same lamp. This is symbolic because everyone, affluent or poor, has the same desires, dreams, wishes, and hopes. Sometimes all it takes is a glimpse of a dream to make someone feel fulfilled for the rest of their life.
This is why, when Else eventually gets a brief glimpse of the house, she forgets that she was shooed out of the Burnells’ home as if she were an animal.
Instead, she concentrates on one simple fact: she, too, had the opportunity to see what the lamp looked like. She had a chance to admire it. She was also able to attend. As a result, this is a concrete indication of how society is uneven and dissimilar. It demonstrates how the rich’s spoils cause the poor’s dreams, yet it is our dreams that make us all human in the same way.
The doll house represents the top class in this society. The walls are papered, and there is carpet, but the dolls and people in the home are “stiff” – they do not seem to belong to the house.
The doll house may be flawless, but it reflects a foul odour of paint.
The only negative aspect of the residence is the odour. The odour depicts society’s brutality.
The best part of the house is the small lamp, which signifies hope for Kelvey’s daughters and other underprivileged people.
Kezia desired to defy these societal boundaries and share the light of the lamp with others, something she had been drawn to when they first received the House.
The lamp represents the sole tiny act of human compassion, which is only displayed by Kezia in the storey when she invites the Kelveys to tour the house.
It is evident that only Kezia is a well-rounded character among the Burnell children. The others are simply interested in flaunting the Doll’s House in order to attain social position and to humiliate the Kelvey sisters. It is Kezia who demonstrates that she is a more rounded character, and the author tells us a lot about how she gets hit by the lamp:
Kezia’s character differs from her sister in that she has yet to learn of the stark social lines that separate her society into people she should and people she should not talk to.
When we look at the story, we can see that the main issue is social class and how it creates obstacles in society that cannot be torn down.
Clearly, such walls exist in this storey between the Kelveys and the rest of the children. What distinguishes Kezia is that she does not act as if there is a dividing line between them. This is evident when she invites the Kelleys to view the residence.
When we first meet the Kelvey sisters, we see them as flat figures, immediately distinguished by their style of walking and bearing themselves – Lil’s foolish smile and Else always clinging to her sister.
However, at the end of the storey, we learn that there is more to Else. Her remark about seeing the “little lamp” is essential not just because the lamp is an important symbol in this storey, but also because it demonstrates that she is not the stupid, silent girl that everyone thinks she is and that she can think on a higher level.
Questions and Answers
Q. What is the moral lesson of the doll’s house by Katherine Mansfield?
Answer. There is a far larger story than what is told in Katherine Mansfield’s “The Doll’s House.” Reading this storey teaches us a valuable lesson. Being prejudiced is not always about individuals of various colours or races; it may also be about rich and poor people.
Q. What is the underlying theme of the story the doll’s house?
Answer. The major theme of Katherine Mansfield’s short storey “The Doll’s House” is the unfair practice of class distinction in society. The novel, written while the author’s native New Zealand was still a British colony, shows the rich-poor divide in that culture based on prejudice.
Q. Why is else called Our else in the doll’s house?
Answer. Throughout the story, Mansfield refers to Else as “our Else,” emphasizing that she wishes the audience to identify with the sisters, especially the younger one.
Q. How does the author Katherine Mansfield show the innocence of small children and cruelty of the society in the story?
Answer. Mansfield depicts society’s harshness in the treatment of the Kelvey girls, Lil and Else. They are the daughters of a poor washerwoman, and it is rumoured that their father is in jail. The Kelvey girls’ innocence is demonstrated by their unwillingness to protest the abuse they are subjected to.
Q. What is the conflict of the doll’s house by Katherine Mansfield?
Answer. The conflict is the socioeconomic fight between the Kelveys and society, which is underlined by the rich Burnell sisters’ doll’s house. In a school where most students had money, the Kelveys did not even have a father, and as a result, parents did not want their children talking to them.
Q. How does Katherine Mansfield discuss the problem of class in the doll’s house?
Answer. Katherine Mansfield’s “The Doll’s House” is a long metaphor for social class prejudice and warfare. The plot revolves around three aristocratic sisters and two destitute sisters and is an examination and critique of upper-class privilege. The dollhouse depicts the Burnells’ prosperous lifestyle.