A Dill Pickle by Katherine Mansfield

A Dill Pickle - Katherine MansfieldIn A Dill Pickle by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of strength, control, self-centeredness, love, selfishness and empowerment. Taken from her Bliss and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises just how self-centered the male protagonist is. Rather than focusing on Vera he throughout the story talks of his own life and some of the journeys that he has made. Even when Vera speaks he is still focused on himself. Something that is noticeable when he talks about the time he slept underneath a cart in his father’s yard. Even though he cannot remember the family’s dog’s name he still places an over dramatic importance on the incident. It is also interesting that when Vera imagines herself sitting by the Black Sea Mansfield uses two colours black and white. This may be important as symbolically Mansfield may be suggesting that things are literally black and white (or clear) for Vera. Rather than being swayed by the words of the male protagonist she is certain about how she feels about him.

Though the reader is never given any insight into why the relationship came to an end. Apart from Vera writing a letter. It is possible that she was looking for a commitment something that the male protagonist was unable to give. Though it is also clear that Vera did have happy times while she was courting him. Mansfield possibly using the flowers (and colours) from Kew Gardens to highlight this to the reader. It may also be a case as some critics might suggest that due to differences in class Vera had to break off her relationship with the male protagonist. It is also interesting that as the male protagonist is talking he mentions his trips around the world with his friends yet later on in the story claims to have no friends. There are several reasons as to why he may be doing this. Firstly he may be looking for sympathy from Vera rather than taking responsibility for his role in the ending of their relationship and secondly he may be just simply attempting to highlight to Vera that she was his only real friend (in an attempt to woo Vera again). Either way there is a sense that the male protagonist is manipulating Vera or attempting to control her again just as he has previously done by putting his finger on her lips when she spoke.

At no stage in the story does the reader sense that the male protagonist has taken Vera seriously, either when they were in a relationship or while they are talking at the table in the restaurant. At all stages he is attempting to control the direction of the conversation. It is also interesting that out of both characters Mansfield only allows the reader an insight into the thoughts of one, Vera. This may be deliberate as Mansfield may be highlighting not only Vera’s ability to think for herself but also a woman’s ability to think for themselves. At the time the story was written women in general would have been viewed upon as being subordinate to men and any input (or thoughts) they might have had would have been considered to be irrelevant.

It is also noticeable that there is an element of sexual tension between Vera and the male protagonist. Something that the reader becomes aware of when we learn that Vera’s bosom began to ‘purr.’ Despite the passing of time she still appears to have feelings for the male protagonist. Though it is interesting that she is able to control them or at least displays an inner strength not to be fooled again. However just as a dill pickle is preserved so too is Vera’s love for the male protagonist. Vera also has the ability to see where she went wrong in the relationship. The caviar being an example. The cost of which was too much for the male protagonist.

The ending of the story is also interesting as by holding onto Vera’s glove the male protagonist is symbolically attempting to reignite his relationship with Vera. However as he is speaking he notices that she walks away. Why she does so is open to discussion but it is possible that Vera realises that what was once there between both her and the male protagonist is no longer. She has the strength of character to move on despite her own sense of loneliness and the fact that she is no longer able to live the life she once knew (having had to sell the piano). Some critics might also suggest it would have been easier for Vera to stay at the table and resume a relationship with the male protagonist. However the downside of doing this would have meant that Vera would have been controlled by the male protagonist again. Who now unlike Vera is a wealthy man. It is also interesting that despite his new found wealth the main protagonist is still frugal (or cheap) when it comes to his money. Just as he disliked paying seven and six for the caviar. He tells the waiter not to charge him for the uneaten cream cake. If anything by leaving the table Vera displays an inner strength and control when the reality is that it would have been financially prudent for her to remain at the table and resume a relationship with the male protagonist.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "A Dill Pickle by Katherine Mansfield." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 19 Feb. 2016. Web.

4 comments

  • Very well thought out analysis! I too got the feeling that the male character was overflowing a bit with self-centered arrogance. Gosh, it was excruciating to sit there and listen to him talk.

    I’m not convinced that Vera was in love with him, or just in love with the time that they were together – the warm summer (she seems to have a thing for the warmth), in the beautiful gardens, being young. It seemed like there was a danger of her falling for his handsomeness, but she’s quick to realize that she was lucky to escape in the end. I cracked up at the last bit when he’s mid-sentence and turns to realize she’s already left. So self-absorbed.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment. You may know the story better than me. If you don’t mind I’ve added your blog to my blogroll. Just checked your site out – it is quite impressive.

  • How would you describe the environment present in the setting of the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’d say its a cross between tense and unsettled. Vera may not at the start of the story realise what the male protagonist’s intentions are. It is only at the end of the story, when Vera walks away, does the reader sense a state of calmness within Vera. She knows what she is doing and what she wants out of life.

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