A Married Man’s Story by Katherine Mansfield
In A Married Man’s Story by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of escape, connection, isolation, loneliness, uncertainty, paralysis and happiness. Taken from her Collected Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed man and after reading the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of escape. The narrator is unhappy in his marriage. It is as though he feels trapped and wants to escape from the life that he knows. This sense of unhappiness is important as the reader also learns that the narrator was unhappy as a child. It is also interesting that there is no mention of the narrator having any childhood friends. He appears to have spent most of his time in his father’s shop or in his home. Something that is mirrored in the narrator’s married life. At no stage in the story does the narrator physically move from his writing desk. It is as though he is paralysed. Aware that he needs to move or escape from his situation. Yet does nothing about it. Which may leave the reader suspecting that the narrator is afraid to make changes in his life. There is also a sense that the narrator is not connected to either his wife or their baby. It is interesting that the narrator calls the baby his wife’s baby and not his. Though some critics might suggest that there has been some type of infidelity in the marriage it is more likely that the narrator simply finds it difficult to accept the fact that his life has changed since the birth of his child.
This sense of change in the narrator’s life is mirrored by his mother’s change when the narrator was born. No longer did she leave her room and if anything she may have isolated the narrator. Which would further suggest the difficulties that the narrator has in connecting with people. If anything the narrator is unhappy in his marriage yet he never gives the read any insight into why he might be unhappy. Though it is noticeable that the narrator avoided answering the question his wife asked him about the importance of a woman being physically attractive to a man. It is possible that the narrator is shallow enough to want to leave his wife because he no longer finds her physically attractive. If this is the case it would shine an unfavourable light on the narrator. He is allowing his vanity to dictate the course of his marriage. It is also interesting that throughout the story the narrator never really knows what point he is trying to make. The reader left feeling through the narrator’s uncertainty that he longs for someone else to make the decision for him as to whether he should abandon or leave his wife and son.
In many ways the narrator may wish to follow the same path that his father took. Having a relationship with another woman. It might also be important that the narrator remembers the other woman in his father’s life affectionately. As he may consider that he too will receive affection from another woman. However it is also noticeable that the narrator does describe the other woman’s smile as being similar to a rat at one stage. Which could suggest that the narrator is having second thoughts or remains uncertain about which direction he should take. It might also be significant that the narrator does not take into consideration the changes that occur for a woman when they have a child. Where once the narrator may have been his wife’s primary focus this is no longer the case. The spotlight is placed firmly on his son. Which is a very normal reaction for a mother to have. Though it is not clearly stated in the story it is possible that the narrator is jealous of his son who has his wife’s undivided attention.
At no stage if the story does the reader consider that the narrator is thinking of anybody but himself. Though it may be true that he has had an unhappy and unloving childhood. He would still have an obligation to others that he must fulfil. That being to look after his wife and son. The narrator also needs to address the exact reason why he wants to leave his wife. Is it because she is no longer affectionate to him or is it because he is no longer attracted to her. The reader never gets a full insight into how the narrator may be thinking due to the jumps that occur in the narrative. One thing however is certain and that is the fact that the narrator is an unhappy man. He finds himself in a position he does not like yet does not know how to react. He wants to break free but he has no history of ever breaking free from situations he disliked. His relationship with his mother being an example. If anything the narrator is to remain as he does throughout the story, paralysed. There will be no change in his life. He will remain married and accept the status quo. Despite his desires to change his position the narrator will continue to be unhappy.