A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield

A Cup of Tea - Katherine MansfieldIn A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of jealousy, insecurity, materialism and class. Taken from her The Doves’ Nest and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of class or rather the differences between social classes. By telling the reader that ‘they were rich, really rich, not just comfortably well off’ Mansfield succeeds in not only highlighting to the reader how wealthy Rosemary and Philip are but more importantly she manages to highlight how different Rosemary is from others. Something that is a little clearer when Mansfield also tells the reader ‘if Rosemary wanted to shop she would go to Paris as you and I would go to Bond Street.’ Though it may appear to be insignificant the fact that Rosemary has a car may also be important as by introducing the car into the story it is possible that Mansfield is further highlighting the class difference that exists between Rosemary and those around her. At the time the story was written only the very wealthy (mostly upper class) would have had the resources to buy a car.

The fact that Rosemary is surprised when Miss Smith first speaks to her also suggests that Rosemary may be different to others. It would have been uncommon (at the time the story was written) for those considered to be of a lower class (Miss Smith) to engage with those considered to be upper class (Rosemary). It is also interesting that Rosemary thinks it is ‘extraordinary’ that Miss Smith has no money. This would again suggest that Rosemary is different from other people. She can’t imagine that somebody would have no money. By describing Miss Smith as the ‘other’ when Rosemary leads Miss Smith into the hall of her home and Rosemary as being like ‘the rich little girl in her nursery’ Mansfield may be further highlighting the difference in class between both Miss Smith and Rosemary.

It is also interesting that Rosemary, while Miss Smith is in her bedroom having tea, leaves Miss Smith’s hat and coat on the floor. By doing so Mansfield may be suggesting that in Rosemary’s eyes, Miss Smith is not her equal. This would further highlight the difference in class (in Rosemary’s eyes) between Miss Smith and Rosemary. The reader also doubts that Rosemary would take the same course of action (leave a hat and coat on the floor) should one of her upper class friends visit her home. At no stage in the story does the reader feel that Rosemary, by taking Miss Smith home with her, is doing so for the benefit of Miss Smith rather it serves to boost Rosemary’s perception of herself. She does after all consider the taking of Miss Smith home with her to be an adventure, something she will be able to boast about to her friends.

There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. The little box that Rosemary sees in the antique shop, by telling the reader that Rosemary ‘must have it’, Mansfield may be highlighting the importance of material things to Rosemary. Mansfield also appears to be using the setting, after Rosemary leaves the antique shop, to highlight Rosemary’s mood after she is unable to buy the little box. Mansfield tells the reader that the ‘rain was falling, and with the rain it seemed the dark came too, spinning down like ashes. There was a cold bitter taste in the air, and the new-lighted lamps looked sad.’ In many ways this setting mirrors how Rosemary may feel about having to leave the shop without purchasing the little box. The flowers that Rosemary buys may also have some symbolic importance. By telling the reader that Rosemary wanted ‘those and those and those. Give me four bunches of those,’ Mansfield may be further highlighting how different Rosemary is from other people (due to her wealth) and how extravagant she is. Rather than just purchasing one bunch of flowers, as most people would and could only afford to do, Rosemary ends up with several.

Rosemary’s change of attitude towards Miss Smith after Philip tells her that he thinks Miss Smith is pretty is also interesting. It is from Philip’s remark that the reader realises not only is Rosemary jealous of Miss Smith (because she is pretty) but she also appears to be insecure about her own physical appearance. It may also be a case that Philip is attempting to manipulate or control Rosemary, just as she has Miss Smith. By telling Rosemary that Miss Smith is pretty Philip is aware that it will result in Rosemary not only feeling jealous but it will also ensure that Miss Smith leaves their home, just as Philip wants her to. If anything Philip appears to want to disassociate himself (and Rosemary) from Miss Smith. Which would again play on the theme of class. Philip does not want to associate himself with those (Miss Smith) he considers to be of a lower class.

How insecure Rosemary may feel about her physical appearance is further noticeable by the fact that after Miss Smith leaves Rosemary’s home, Mansfield tells the reader that Rosemary ‘done her hair, darkened her eyes a little and put on her pearls.’ This action is important as it suggests that Rosemary is attempting to make herself pretty, at least in Philips eyes. The fact that Rosemary asks Philip for the money to buy the little box may also be significant as it would again highlight the importance of material things to Rosemary. Also by ending the story with Rosemary asking Philip ‘am I pretty?’ Mansfield may be further highlighting how insecure Rosemary feels about her physical appearance. Despite being wealthy and living a life that the majority of people at the time the story was written were unable to live, Rosemary is insecure.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 15 May. 2015. Web.

95 comments

  • very crispy and informative

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Suji. I’m glad you found the post helpful.

      • Why was Katherine Mansfield regarded as a modern writer?

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Thanks for the comment KD. Mansfield may be considered a modernist writer because she tackled issues that were not largely seen in literature at the time. Issues like social status and class.

    • wow its really a very powerful story…….

    • Please explain the meaning of ‘if you took her to pieces…but why be so cruel as to take anyone to pieces.’

      • Dermot (Post Author)

        Thanks for the comment Can. The line is an unfavourable view of Rosemary. What the narrator is suggesting is that if you broke down each part of Rosemary’s personality (and appearance) you might not like what you find. And it would be cruel to do so. Nobody would like to be completely under a microscope.

      • I am poor in English sentence understanding so please explain things in a simple way. Don’t mistake me but like l love to study.

        • If u took her to pieces…but why be so cruel as to take anyone to pieces. Please explain in simple way?

          • Dermot (Post Author)

            Thanks for the comment Mahendran. Jealousy might be one reason why an individual might take another individual to pieces. Not liking someone too. Often people who dislike another person will talk unkindly of that person.

  • It was very useful.

  • It’s a very nice story. Today I have a clearer concept about this story. Its our syllabus related story..

  • What does materialism here mean and who is materialistic Rosemary or her husband?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Maqsood. When I refer to materialism in the story I am making reference to Rosemary. How she is more interested in possessions (small box in shop) than she is in the well-being of the individual. Though she brings Miss Smith home with her Rosemary is not necessarily concerned about her. Rather she considers bringing Miss Smith home to be similar to an adventure she can tell her friends about.

      Rosemary’s main focus throughout the story is on herself. How she will have a story to tell her friends which will make her the centre of attention. It might also be important that though Philip doesn’t appear to be materialistic. He is nonetheless extremely class conscious. Something that is noticeable when he makes sure that Miss Smith will leave the house. He also acts as Rosemary’s enabler, assisting her by giving her the money to buy the small box at the end of the story.

  • Thanks so much for replying to me. I found it very useful and interesting. If you could also point out some of the figurative language in the story.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Hi Maqsood. There is some figurative language in the story some of which includes Mansfield telling the reader that Rosemary ‘had a duck of a boy’ when describing Philip. Also when Mansfield describes Rosemary’s wealth she makes a comparison to an individual’s grandparents ‘not just comfortably well off, which is odious and stuffy and sounds like one’s grandparents.’ There are further examples of figurative language. The flowers, when the young girl is carrying them out of the shop, are described as ‘an immense white paper armful that looked like a baby in long clothes….’ The little enamel box box is also described as looking as ‘though it had been baked in cream.’

      Further on in the story Mansfield describes the rain as ‘spinning down like ashes.’ Also when Rosemary first meets Miss Smith she ‘shivered as though she had just come out of the water.’ Also when both Rosemary and Miss Smith are driving to Rosemary’s home Mansfield describes the scene as though Rosemary and Miss Smith ‘were skimming through the dusk.’ When Rosemary arrives home with Miss Smith she is described as being ‘like the rich little girl in her nursery with all the cupboards to open, all the boxes to unpack.’ Then near the end of the story Mansfield describes Rosemary’s heart as beating ‘like a heavy bell.’

  • Have you any material about the Thomas Hardy short story The Withered Arm? Also what genre is A Cup of Tea?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I don’t have The Withered Arm Maqsood but if I come across it I’ll post a review. As far as I can work out A Cup of Tea would be part of the modernist tradition.

  • Thank you so much it was really helpful. I would like to know the meaning of ‘She had a duck of a boy. No not Peter—Michael.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Jyoti. I’m glad you found the post helpful. The term duck (or ducky) would mean pleasant or excellent. So Mansfield is most likely suggesting that Rosemary has a good man in Philip. The hyphen between Peter—Michael is also confusing as the reader doesn’t know if Mansfield is listing two men’s names who may have previously courted Rosemary before she married Philip or if Peter—Michael is one individual’s name. Either way though the sentence refers to Philip.

  • I would like to know the meaning of “Rosemary Fell was not exactly beautiful “

  • This story was on our syllabus of English in India. Being an English literature student I have read all of Katherine Mansfield’s short stories on free ebooks published by the University of Adelaide. Anyone wishing to read Mansfield’s stories can do so there.

  • Thank you very much for your analysis. I am studying Modern English literature and this week I have an assignment with this. Have you ever thought about Ms. Smith’s feeling in this story? I saw many people emphasis Rosemary but don’t mention Ms. Smith much.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Fu. Mansfield may have deliberately not given Miss Smith a voice and by doing so may be suggesting that the lower classes themselves do not have a voice, unlike Rosemary who is the main focus for most if not all of the story. Throughout the story I found Miss Smith to be submissive to Rosemary which might be the point that Mansfield was trying to make. To suggest to the reader the control that the upper classes had over the lower classes. One incident that stuck out for me is when Rosemary leaves Miss Smith’s hat and coat on the floor and Miss Smith says nothing.

      It is as if Miss Smith is not Rosemary’s equal though as you suggest we never get any insight into how Miss Smith may feel. It may also be a case that Miss Smith because of her class looks highly upon Rosemary as many people from the lower classes would have done at the time when it came to someone from the upper classes. They would not have questioned them or engaged with them in any way. Which may in some way explain Miss Smith’s relative silence throughout the story.

      • Thank you so much for replying to me. My assignment is about retelling the story with first-person, Ms. Smith. I have to imagine Smith’s feeling and opinion when treated like that. I think when Rosemary decides to take Smith to her house, Smith’s very surprised and confused. Afterward, when she’s in Rosemary’s house it can be scary. But there are two things I can’t make clear. First is the reason why Smith initially asks Rosemary for the cost for a cup of tea and whether Smith knows the conversation between Rosemary and Phillip is about her, because she doesn’t enjoy any tea and has to go out.

        Btw, your information helped me solve some problems in my complicated assignment, thank you so much!!!!

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          I would agree with you that Miss Smith is somewhat surprised and confused when Rosemary asks her to visit her home. I think Miss Smith’s reaction is due to the fact that it was uncommon at the time the story was written for the lower classes to mix with the upper classes. It is also an environment in which Miss Smith is not accustomed to which as you suggest makes her feel somewhat afraid. I think Miss Smith asked Rosemary for the price of a cup of tea because she knew that Rosemary could afford it.

          Though it is also possible that Miss Smith may have asked everybody who passed by her for the price of a cup of tea. I also don’t think that Miss Smith is aware that Rosemary and Philip are talking about her. I think the reason she may not enjoy the tea is because of the environment around her. She would not be used to the comforts that come with upper class homes. If anything I felt that Miss Smith herself was out of her comfort zone. Unsure of how to react to Rosemary and as such may have wished to leave the home.

  • Please I need to know if Oscar Wilde’s short stories are representative of the Victorian era? Also the theme of feminism in A Cup of Tea.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Rabia. I’ve not read Oscar Wilde so I’m unable to answer that part of your comment. When it comes to feminism as a theme in the story it is possible that Mansfield is highlighting the divisions that exist within feminism. Rather than being there for Miss Smith Rosemary through her insecurity and jealousy (of Miss Smith) ends up giving Miss Smith some money rather than bonding or connecting with her in any particular way. Miss Smith is more a plaything for Rosemary rather than being someone that Rosemary would view upon as being her equal or someone she can understand and connect with.

  • Why isn’t the poor girl’s first name mentioned in the story? why is it just miss Smith?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Arbaz. Mansfield probably withheld Miss Smith’s first name to highlight the fact that Miss Smith is different to Rosemary. One person is upper class (Rosemary) and is given a first name while Miss Smith as a working class person has her name withheld. Mansfield is probably attempting to differentiate between the classes by withholding Miss Smith’s first name.

  • Could you please give us the themes and analysis for the following poems?

    a) The Question by Adrian Mitchell
    b) Hawk Roosting by Ted Hughes

    Also, could you explain ‘The Dead’ by James Joyce?

    Thank you so much!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Piku. I only review short stories and know very little about poetry. I have an analysis on The Dead on the blog. You can find it here.

  • This story is in our syllabus thank you so much it is helpful

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Paraminder. It’s great knowing you found the post helpful. Good luck with your studies.

      • Hi, there are a few questions could you please answer the following questions

        1- What did Rosemary decide to do with the girl and what was the latter’s reaction to the proposal? Did she have any suspicion about the offer?

        2- Why Rosemary didn’t buy that box ? She is rich enough to buy it then why she didn’t

        Thank you

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Rosemary brought Miss Smith to her home and when Philip triggered Rosemary’s jealousies; Rosemary gave Miss Smith some money and sent her on her way. It is possible that Miss Smith was suspicious of Rosemary as it would not have been the norm at the time (and possibly still today) for upper class people to associate with those of the lower classes. This could have aroused suspicion in Miss Smith.

          Rosemary may not have bought the box as she is being funded by Philip. Philip would have become aware of how much Rosemary spent and as such may have scorned her. Rosemary is under the control, financially (and otherwise), of Philip. She is not independent of him and as such feels as though she is answerable to Philip.

  • Who is Rosemary married to and how long was she married?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Subrata. Rosemary is married to Phillip. As readers we do not know how long she has been married.

  • What was thought of Rosemary’s married life?

  • Who wanted the price of a cup of tea from Rosemary?

  • What was in the little box?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Igor. Mansfield never lets the reader know if there was anything in the box.

  • Is there any isolation and loneliness in this story.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Ezhar. I suppose you could suggest that Rosemary is lonely and isolates herself. Lonely because she is so reliant on Philip to provide for her. The marriage may be based on convenience – Philip has money and isolated because she doesn’t mix with people of all classes (Miss Smith).

  • Is rosemary insecure?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Sudipa. Rosemary is insecure. An example of which is when Philip tells her that Miss Smith is attractive. Rosemary feels threatened by the remark and as such changes her opinion of Miss Smith. As to why Rosemay may be inseure is probably due to her dependency on Philip. She is not a strong independent woman.

  • I am kindly asking you to explain the meaning of the first two paragraphs line by line.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Beginning with the first paragraph. The narrator has an opportunity to be cruel towards Rosemary but decides against it. Knowing that it would be unfair. Instead the narrator compliments many of the good things that Rosemary has going for her. Good character traits.

      In the second paragraph the reader learns that Rosemary is married to a good man (a good catch). We also learn that Rosemary and Philip (Rosemary’s husband)are rich and do not need for anything. In fact Rosemary can be flamboyant when it comes to spending money. Buying more than she needs.

  • She had a duck of boy. Please tell me this sentence meaning.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mahe. The term duck (or ducky) would mean pleasant or excellent. So Philip is a pleasant or excellent man (or boy).

  • She had a duck of a boy please see this sentence once again. I thought that her husband had a son. Duck means darling so darling mean husband?

  • How Rosemary Fell helpful by nature in the story of a cup of tea ?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Harsh. I’m not sure if Rosemary is helpful by nature. Anything she does she does so for herself. Taking Miss Smith home as an example. Rosemary wants to be able to boast to her friends of the adventure she had with Miss Smith. Likewise when Philip tells Rosemary that he thinks Miss Smith is attractive. Rosemary because of jealousy gives Miss Smith some money and removes from her home

  • Could u explain me the meaning of the paragraph which I have mentioned below-

    ” On the lid a minute creature stood under a flowery tree,and a more minute creature still had her arms round his neck . Her hat, really no bigger than a geranium petal,hung from a branch ; it had green ribbon.And there was a pink cloud like a watchful cherub floating above their heads. Rosemary took her hands out of her long gloves. she always took off her gloves to examine such things. Yes ,she liked it very much . she loved it; it was a great duck . she must have it. And turning the creamy box,opening and shutting it , she couldn’t help noticing how charming her hands were against the blue velvet .The shopman,in same dim cavern of his mind , may have dared to think so,too.For he took a pencil ,leant over the counter ,and his pale bloodless finger crept timidly towards those rosy,flashing ones,as he murmured gently: ‘ If I may venture to point out to madam ,the flower on little lady’s bodice.’ “

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Pankaj. Mansfield is describing the little box that Rosemary wants to buy. Mansfield is also using colourful imagery to highlight to the reader how interested Rosemary is in the box. Something that is noticeable by the salesman too. Throughout the paragraph Rosemary is thinking about herself and how good the box will look in her home.

      • Thanks for replying me. You have cleared most of my doubt. But I have still some confusion.

        For example:-

        “The shopman,in same dim cavern of his mind , may have dared to think so,too.For he took a pencil ,leant over the counter ,and his pale bloodless finger crept timidly towards those rosy,flashing ones,as he murmured gently: ‘ If I may venture to point out to madam ,the flower on little lady’s bodice.’ ”

        Could you elaborate above sentences meaning ? For me, it is really hard to understand it.

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Mansfield is suggesting that the shopman or salesman is more interested in making a sale to Rosemary than anything else. She portrays him as a dark figure whose only goal is to make a sale. Something that is noticeable by his remark about the flower on the little lady’s bodice. His mind is described as being like a dim cavern (badly lit) and his fingers are described as bloodless. Mansfield is not flattering when it comes to describing the salesman. Who again is more interested in selling Rosemary the little box than anything else.

  • Thank you very much. You have cleared all my doubt. I’m really satisfied with your answer.

  • “But let me know if Miss Smith is going to dine with us in time for me to look up The Milliner’s Gazette.” What does it mean? Could you elaborate me?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Philip is being sarcastic. At the time the story was written milliners (hat makers), shop assistants and other causal jobs were considered by some to be loosely the equivalent of prostitution. Hence Philip sarcastically suggesting he should look up The Milliner’s Gazette.

  • sorry, I’m not getting you.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Philip is suggesting that Miss Smith may be a prostitute. A good looking prostitute which makes Rosemary jealous.

  • I have 2 questions regarding this story

    1. Why did Rosemary try to make herself attractive as possible before her husband?

    2. “Philip,” she whispered, and she pressed his head against her bosom, “am I pretty?” Could you comment on this statement?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Rosemary is aware that Philip said Miss Smith is attractive. By putting on make-up and making herself more attractive Rosemary wants to put the focus back on her. With regard to Rosemary asking Philip is she pretty. Rosemary is insecure because of Philip’s earlier remark about Miss Smith being attractive. Philip is playing on Rosemary’s insecurities.

  • Is Rosemary afraid of Miss Smith that Philip will give his wife’s place to Miss Smith?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Rosemary would be afraid of any woman (including Miss Smith) taking her place. Rosemary has a very comfortable life with Philip. He provides for Rosemary ensuring that Rosemary’s life is free of financial worry.

  • Thank you very much Dermot. Your post is very useful for me. It has cleared lots of doubt from my mind. I read lots of blog but your blog is completely different from others. It is easy to understand and a lot more clearer than others. I would like to request that you include the D.H. Lawrence short story : ” Odour of Chrysanthemums”

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for your kind words Pankaj. I have a copy of Odour of Chrysanthemums. I just don’t know when I’ll get a chance to review the story. At the moment I have a back log of stories that I need to read.

  • 1 ) What is the central theme of the Short story ‘A cup of tea ‘ ?
    2) Why did Gopal seek a truthful opinion from Dr. Raman as mentioned in R.K Narayan The doctor Word ?
    3) Explain Briefly the important characteristics of a short story ?
    4) How does old Mr.behrman play a significant role in saving Johnny’s life in The last leaf ?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Krishna. The central theme of ‘A Cup of Tea’ is class and social prejudice.

      Gopal most likely wanted to know the truth so that he could prepare himself for what may happen.

      The exact characteristics of a short story will vary by writer. Usually a short story focuses on one incident; has a single plot, a single setting, and a small number of characters; and covers a short period of time. You’ll find out more here.

      Behrman ends up saving Johnsy’s life by sacrificing his own life when he paints the leaf.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *