All Serene by Katherine Mansfield
In All Serene by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of appearance, doubt, trust, insecurity, escape, acceptance and freedom. Taken from her The Collected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of appearance. Mona is fully dressed for breakfast and appears to have no faults (as described by the narrator). This may be significant because as the story progresses there is a sense that Mona has her doubts about Hugh’s fidelity. She doubts that other women do not find him attractive and as such may be willing to step between her and Hugh. It is as though Mona is unable to accept that she is happy and finds fault in something. A fault which is deep and strong enough to cause her to feel insecure about herself. This too may be important as Mansfield could be generalizing and suggesting that women at the time, who appeared to have everything as Mona has, do not necessarily feel secure within themselves. They have doubts about their partners or how they might live their lives.
It is also noticeable that Hugh attempts to allay Mona’s concerns with regard to the letter being written by a woman. There is also nothing in the story to suggest that Hugh is having an affair and as such Mona may be again feeling insecure within herself. Though Mansfield never gives the reader a reason as to why Mona may feel insecure. It is also interesting that Mona doubts herself as she is playing the piano. Her environment becomes a hindrance to her and she wishes to change how the drawing room looks. It is possible that Mansfield is suggesting, through symbolism, that Mona herself may need to change. That she needs to trust Hugh and to let go of her own insecurities when it comes to Hugh and other women. Again she has no valid reason to dispute Hugh’s fidelity.
There is also some further symbolism in the story which may be important. The ‘perfect’ feel to the morning in many ways mirrors what Mona would like her life to be like. She, through doubt, allows for a darkness or imperfection to enter her relationship with Hugh which casts an element of unhappiness into Mona’s life. Mona may also know, subconsciously, that she is in trouble with her thoughts. She emphasizes the word ‘pain’ when she sings it happily. It is as though Mona may be afraid to address her fears and to directly ask Hugh is he having an affair with another woman. The hallway where Mona looks upon Hugh with delight, most times, no longer provides Mona with an escape. Her doubts are so persistent that the reader feels as though they will eventually overcome Mona and that she may never know what is really happening. In reality all is not calm or serene in Mona’s life.
The end of the story is also interesting as Mona appears to be lost in doubt. Casually saying goodbye to Hugh without really realizing what is happening. Which may lead some critics to suggest that Hugh is indeed having an affair and Mona knows it too but is in denial that it is really happening as she cannot see herself living her life without Hugh (or any man). It may actually be a case that Mansfield is suggesting that Mona has a dependency on the male that is unhealthy. She lacks independent thought to evaluate the situation she finds herself in. Rather she would prefer to escape by playing the piano. Though even there she appears to be in pain. Which could be another point that Mansfield is attempting to make. She could be suggesting that women in general do not have the proper freedom to live their lives because of insecurities within themselves that are not independently appraised but rather are judged through the heart. Which may leave some readers again feeling as though Mona is lost in her emotions and insecurities. Where it would be better to logically appraise the situation she finds herself in. This is not something that Mona appears to be able to do.