Carnation by Katherine Mansfield
In Carnation by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of boredom, sensuality, control, friendship, desire and temptation. Taken from her Something Childish 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 boredom. Each girl with the exception of Eve and Katie is bored in Mr Hugo’s French class. It doesn’t help that the room is hot and the girls find it difficult to concentrate. In fact that girls are more interested in doing other things. Eve and the carnation being an example. Francie’s act of painting herself with ink might also be considered to be a sensual act. Though the girl’s ages are not mentioned they may be coming of age in whereby they are exploring their sexuality. Something that Mr Hugo may find difficult to control as he has very little control over the class. In fact all of the girls find it hard to concentrate in Mr Hugo’s class and each girl’s mind wanders throughout the story.
Which is understandable as the girls have no interest in French and would much prefer to explore their minds in a manner that suits them best or at least in a manner that they believe suits them best. It is also interesting that Eve is introduced separate to the other girls. All the girls are introduced by the heat but Eve seems to be used to it. Leaving the reader to suspect that Eve is different to the other girls. The carnation that Eve is holding is not pink (the usual colour of a carnation) but red. Placing an emphasis on how different Eve is to the other girls. Red is also the colour of passion and Eve places the carnation in Katie’s blouse as a sign of passion, love, friendship and fascination. Eve’s name is also important as in biblical terms she is the first woman and the first person tempted. Katie may also represent temptation for Eve. Katie has no flower till Eve gives her the carnation. As to whether Katie is tempted by Eve is difficult to say as Mansfield ends the story without Katie giving a response to Eve.
The fact that Eve eats flowers (roses) is also interesting as she may be symbolically consuming flesh and may want something more from Katie. A sexual relationship that Katie may or may not be aware of. The fact that the class is a French class; Mansfield may be suggesting that not all sensations cannot be pinned down by language. With the exception of Eve and Katie all the other girls in the class are bored by Mr Hugo. This may be significant as symbolically Mansfield could be suggesting that Eve and Katie have a connection. Even though Katie looks out the window at the horse been hosed down. For a brief moment breaking Eve’s spell over her. Though Eve soon grabs Katie’s attention by placing the carnation in her blouse. A sensual act in itself.
It is also possible that Eve is attempting to control Katie just as the biblical Eve attempted to control Adam. There is no disputing that Eve likes Katie and may wish to have a relationship with her. If not a long term friendship. How open Katie may be to this is difficult to say as her mind wanders towards the man hosing the horse, which may represent phallic symbolism. So the best that Eve might have is a long term friendship with Katie. Which may or may not satisfy the sensual Eve. It might be important that all of Eve’s focus in the classroom is on Katie. She may not necessarily be prepared to have a platonic relationship with Katie. Katie after all seems more interested in the man hosing down the horse than she does on Eve’s attention. Katie may have suppressed her sexuality whereas Eve is the complete opposite. Eve desires Katie but the desire may not be reciprocated. Though that does not mean that Eve will stop trying to seduce Kate. Eve is aware of her sexuality while Katie is only discovering hers. Eve may be persistent till she eventually gets Katie.