Frau Brechenmacher Attends a Wedding by Katherine Mansfield
In Frau Brechenmacher Attends a Wedding by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of gender roles, domination, submission, control, struggle, identity and tradition. Taken from her In a German Pension 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 control. Throughout the story Frau Brechenmacher is at the beck and call of her husband. When he arrives home she is getting his clothes ready for the wedding making sure that he is ready before she is. If anything Herr Brechenmacher comes first throughout the story. Something that is further noticeable when both Herr and Frau Brechenmacher are walking to the wedding. He walks in front of her. It is as if there is an unspoken hierarchy that Frau Brechenmacher must follow. Even though she is struggling as she is walking. What is also noticeable at the wedding is that it would appear that the men and women are separated from each other. Each has their own place at the wedding.
At no stage in the story does the reader get any sense of gender equality. Rosa as an example is being used by her mother to help her get her father’s clothes ready for the wedding, though in all likelihood she is in reality being taught how to serve her father. Symbolically by allowing Rosa wear Frau Brechenmacher’s shawl Mansfield may be suggesting that Rosa is taking over the role of her mother and being subservient (like her mother) to her father. The fact that Frau Brechenmacher’s skirt is open at the back may also be important as it suggests that because she spent all her time looking after her husband, she has forgotten to look after herself. At the time the story was written it would have been traditional for a woman to serve her husband rather than being treated as an equal in the marriage. Rather than allowing Herr Brechenmacher prepare himself for the wedding Frau Brechenmacher (and Rosa) have done all the work. Which would highlight just how submissive many women at the time the story was written were to their husbands. It is also interesting that at no stage in the story does the reader find out what Frau Brechenmacher’s first name is. It is possible that by withholding this information Mansfield is deliberately attempting to highlight the loss of identity that Frau Brechenmacher may feel now that she is a married woman.
The setting of the story may also be important. A wedding is usually associated with being a happy or joyous occasion yet both Frau Ledermann and Frau Rupp are gossiping about the fact that the groom is not the father of the bride’s child and how the child should not be at the wedding. This may be important as both Frau Ledermann and Frau Rupp are judging the bride by their own traditional views. It is also interesting that the bride prior to getting married didn’t want to marry the groom and a priest had to be called to persuade her. Again this would play on the societal norms of the time. With the priest possibly suggesting the importance of the bride’s child having a father in her life when the bride herself may not necessarily have wanted a husband and was prepared to raise the child on her own. Going against traditionally held views on the make-up of a family. It is also noticeable that rather than enjoying herself Frau Brechenmacher is embarrassed by her husband when he makes his speech, possibly because he is drunk. Frau Brechenmacher’s attitude to the gift that Herr Brechenmacher gives the wedding couple may also be important. Out of everyone at the wedding she is the only one who isn’t laughing. It is possible that Frau Brechenmacher realises that the gift in many ways symbolises how her life has turned out. Married with five children and with no life of her own. If anything she may realise that her life has been controlled (by her husband and children). Which again at the time the story was written would have been the societal norm.
The end of the story is also interesting as Mansfield appears to be further exploring the theme of struggle. By having Herr Brechenmacher walking a head of Frau Brechenmacher and having her stumbling behind her husband. Mansfield may be suggesting that it is Herr Brechenmacher who is leading the way (or in control) and that Frau Brechenmacher is struggling behind her husband. Frau Brechenmacher’s recollection of her own wedding night may also be important as there is a sense that she is unhappy with the circumstances she finds herself in. If anything she is trapped. It is also noticeable that when she arrives home Frau Brechenmacher prepares a supper for her husband. Again this may be important as it suggests that she remains under her husband’s control, as if she is being dominated by him or at least allowing herself to be dominated by him. Something that is further noticeable when Herr Brechenmacher talks about his first night with Frau Brechenmacher. The fact that Frau Brechenmacher is described by Mansfield as ‘the little Frau’ when she gets into bed may also be important as it suggests a lack of growth for Frau Brechenmacher. Mansfield also tells the reader that Frau Brechenmacher as she is lying in bed has her ‘arm across her face like a child.’ By using the words ‘little’ and ‘child’ Mansfield may be describing just how Fray Brechenmacher feels. Having never had the opportunity to develop her own life having spent her life married with five children.