A Bad Idea by Katherine Mansfield
In A Bad Idea by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of helplessness, determination, ignorance, selfishness and guilt. Taken from her The Collected Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed man and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of helplessness. The narrator has gotten himself into a rut when it comes to his wife’s physical health. He doesn’t know what is wrong with her and feels helpless when it comes to any attempt to help her. Though it is noticeable that he does his best by bringing her tea and bread while she is resting in bed. Though some critics might suggest that the narrator is ignorant of the facts it is difficult even for the reader to figure out what ailment the wife has. Some may suggest she is pregnant though Mansfield never explores this as an option. What is noticeable is the fact that the narrator’s wife tries her best to act as calmly and normally as possible. The fact that she is making dinner is an example. She has not let the pain or headache get the better of her.
Which may be Mansfield’s way of suggesting that women are more determined and resilient and can take a lot of pain. More pain than a man may take. The fact that the narrator forgets about his wife as soon as he leaves the house might also be important as it is possible that Mansfield is suggesting that the narrator (and men in general) are selfish. Thinking only of themselves. While a woman is different and may not have gone to work at all should their husband or partner have been ill. The narrator is also driven by his ego when he is in work. Something that is noticeable when he engages with Fisher. It is as though Fisher has challenged the narrator to grow better peas. When one would expect the narrator to be more focused on his wife’s illness. It would not be wrong to suggest that at times the narrator is being self-centred. Thinking only of himself and how the world may view him. Thoughts of his wife and her illness are at the back of the narrator’s mind.
Having said this the narrator may actually feel guilty about his actions or rather the lack of them. The title of the story reflecting such a thought. The narrator knows that he should be at home and that this is the responsible thing to do. As to why the narrator delays his journey home may be because his defense mechanisms are kicking in. He is wholly reliant on his wife to maintain the house and he may not be ready to live a life without her. The headaches are consistent which may mean the narrator’s wife suffers with migraines or it could be something more sinister that is affecting her. What is easier to say is the fact that the narrator’s wife is persistent. She does her best to carry on as though nothing is wrong. There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The school children on the tram are carrying flowers. Perhaps Mansfield is subtly suggesting that the narrator should buy his wife flowers on his way home from work. The children themselves are significant as Mansfield could be lending to the idea that the narrator’s wife is indeed pregnant. Though again she is prone to suffer from headaches so there may not be anything out of the normal.
The end of the story is interesting as the narrator’s wife has made his favourite pudding for him. This only arouses more guilt within the narrator for his actions during the day. Possibly making the narrator feel more selfish than he ought too. In reality there was very little that the narrator could do to help his wife. She is a determined woman who works around her husband. Though ill she still had the dinner ready and did not complain about her illness when the narrator returned home. Some critics might suggest that not only is the narrator’s wife determined but she is strong too. A strength the reader suspects is not met by the male. Who may need more care than what the narrator’s wife got. However at the same time it is noticeable that the narrator does not suggest that the doctor should be called. Perhaps he too is used to his wife’s headaches and as such did not feel as though it would be the right thing to call upon a doctor. Either way the narrator’s wife has carried on through the day as though everything is alright. While the narrator eventually feels a degree of guilt about his lack of actions. Only time will tell as to whether the narrator changes.