Germans at Meat by Katherine Mansfield
In Germans at Meat by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of obsession, foolishness, conflict, patriotism, equality and tradition. Taken from her In a German Pension collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman and the reader realises after reading the story that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of obsession. Every character in the story with the exception of the narrator appears to be obsessed with food and health. Yet the quantities of food being eaten by some of the characters would not be deemed to be healthy. Herr Rat for example eats too much and is fooling himself when it comes to the issue of his health. If anything Mansfield could be suggesting that Herr Rat has more money than sense. Along with the other characters in the story. To a casual observer it is obvious that some of the characters are wasting their time in the Pension. Yet this does not stop them breaking any bad habits that they might have. Instead each character continues with their foolishness.
The theme of conflict is self-evident in the story. The First World War is approaching and this really leaves the narrator on the outside. She is the only English person in the room and does her best to defend her home. Though the reality is the German characters are more apt at declaring themselves to be a superior nation and if they had wanted England. They could have had her a long time ago. Though it is not important that the narrator defends England it still shows the reader that the narrator is patriotic. That she believes in England over other countries. In fact some critics might suggest that the narrator’s patriotism is a beneficial trait to have. She does not forget where she comes from. The narrator’s relationship with her husband is also questioned when the narrator tells the widow she does not know her husband’s favourite meal. The widow can’t believe this nor can the other guests. Which says a lot for the widow and the other guests. They make the assumption that the narrator is the type of woman who is at the beck and call of her husband. This may not necessarily be the case. The narrator could have a modern marriage in whereby she is not at the constant beck and call of her husband.
In fact the narrator might stand on the same footing as her husband. There may be equality within the marriage. Something that appears to be alien to the other guests in the Pension. If anything Mansfield may be placing a spotlight on the changing roles of women in society and taking a dig at the less progressive German marriages. The reader doesn’t feel as though the narrator had to ask her husband’s permission to go to the Pension either. The narrator may have made the decision for herself and rightly so. Though as for her treatment or ‘cure.’ This may be as fanciful as the other characters’ cure. Which would suggest to the reader that Mansfield is having another go. This time at the German sciences. There is also a sense that the narrator is uncomfortable around the other guests or that she does not necessarily feel as though she fits in with them. If this is the narrator’s instinct then she would do well to follow it.
The end of the story is also interesting as the narrator does appear to follow her instinct and leave the room. The conversation has been unpleasant for her. Yet none of the other characters would have noticed this. They appear to carry on regardless as if they have a tradition to maintain. A tradition that is alien to the young narrator and she may very well regret being so polite to the other characters. Particularly when reference to the pending war was mentioned. If anything the narrator hold’s herself well and cannot really be criticized. It is the other characters with their ego’s showing that are really at fault in the story. In reality the narrator has had to sit down and be criticized by the other characters due to her nationality and her marriage. One which she had no option over and the second being a marriage that is in modern terms more progressive than most.