Father and the Girls by Katherine Mansfield
In Father and the Girls by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of fear, paralysis, appearance, class, innocence, conflict and freedom. Taken from her The Collected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading section one of the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of fear. Ernestine is still young and not as worldly as other people. She is fascinated by trains yet is also afraid of them. However this doesn’t stop Ernestine from looking at the train as it pulls into the station. She is amazed by the people who arrive and then depart. It is as though Ernestine is not part of their world. She has to work in the vineyard while others stay in the hotel. If anything Mansfield may be suggesting that there is a class issue. It is also possible that Mansfield is comparing Ernestine against the older Emily and Edith from section two of the story. Just as Ernestine is amazed by the train. Likewise Emily and Edith are amazed by the hotel and how stylish it is. That is with the exception of the hall of the hotel which is too cold for Emily and Edith.
If anything Ernestine, Emily and Edith are impressed by the appearance of things. How things look. They appear to make their mind up on liking something or not on first inspection. This is not the only comparison that can be made between all three characters. All three are observant and know what is happening around them. It is also possible that Mansfield is suggesting that regardless of age; appearance can be important to an individual. It can help them to form a judgement (right or wrong) in their mind. All three also have something else in common. A sense of innocence. One would expect this from Ernestine because she is still a teenager but Emily and Edith are in their fifties or sixties and as such one would expect them to be more experienced when it comes to matters of the world.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The train could symbolise the exotic, at least for Ernestine. While Emily and Edith may look at it as a means to an end. If this is the case then Mansfield could be drawing on the theme of class again. The hotel is also exotic and impresses Emily and Edith. It is possible that both women realise that they may be middle class yet they are not upper class. The standards of the hotel are exceptionally high in Emily and Edith’s eyes. The empty ballroom at dinner time may suggest that Emily, Edith and their father are travelling off peak or that the hotel is exceptionally exclusive. Though it must be remembered that it can’t be too exclusive in that it excludes patrons. It has to make money someway.
The end of the story is interesting as Mansfield appears to be exploring the theme of paralysis. Emily and Edith’s father likes to travel. He does not like staying at home. At home he feels as though there is nothing to do and that his life is not fulfilled. If anything home life paralyses Emily and Edith’s father. It also causes conflict within the father and he much prefers to spend his time travelling with his daughters. As to whether Emily and Edith have ever married is difficult to say. If they are their father’s constant travelling companions then it is unlikely that they have married. Which may play on the theme of fear. Perhaps both women are afraid to leave their father or perhaps they fear marriage itself. It is also possible that with marriage both women might consider that they will lose an element of freedom. They will not be able to live their lives as they see fit. It is easier to take care of their father and at the same time live their lives as they wish to live it. Either way there is very little chance that either woman will change. Something which would further give emphasis to paralysis as a theme in the story. Ironically the women are travelling through Europe. Yet they may not necessarily be going anywhere.