How Pearl Button was Kidnapped by Katherine Mansfield
In How Pearl Button was Kidnapped by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of trust, freedom, innocence, happiness, connection and perception. 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 trust. Pearl seems to trust the two Maori women she meets outside her house. She has no fear of them which may suggest that Pearl is somewhat innocent. Where some may expect Pearl to ignore the women or run back into the house due to fear. This does not happen. What is also interesting about the story is not only the fact that Pearl trusts both women but she also appears to consider what is happening to her as being like an adventure. This too could be important as it further suggests just how innocent Pearl is. Though the reader never gets to know Pearl’s age the fact that she has never seen the sea and that one of the women is able to carry her may suggest that Pearl is very young. Which might help explain as to why Pearl is so innocent.
There is also a sense that Pearl feels free when she is not only with the two women but when she is in the room with the other people. All who appear to be Maoris (dark men and women) and just as when Pearl was taken by the two women outside her home. While she is in the room with the other Maori people she is not afraid. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Pearl enjoys eating the peach. It is also interesting that Mansfield is using a child to suggest that both settlers (white people) and Maoris can get along. As the reality at the time would have been very different with Maoris being ostracized by white settlers. If anything Pearl appears to be happy while she is with the Maoris. Which leaves the reader wondering as to the title of the story. Rather than being kidnapped as the police think Pearl has been. She has instead enjoyed her time with the Maoris who do not seem to have any bad intentions towards Pearl. This could be important as the differences between what the police think or their perception of what has happened and what is actually happening highlights the lack of connection that may have existed at the time between white settler and the Maoris. It is as though the police and others could learn something from Pearl’s engagement with the Maoris.
It is also noticeable that both Pearl and one of the women who took her from her home show each other affection. It is as though both characters have an ability to connect with one another. Though some critics might suggest that Pearl is being naive in trusting the woman. It is more likely that the affection is similar to the affection a mother and daughter might show each other rather than anything more sinister. At no stage in the story is Pearl’s life under threat. If anything she is treated kindly throughout the story. With Mansfield shining a favourable light on Maoris. Symbolically the sea may also be important as it could represent freedom for Pearl. The fact that she has never seen the sea before could also suggest that Pearl lives a rigid and strict life. One that may not be necessarily happy at least not when compared to her experience with the Maoris.
The end of the story is also interesting as rather than the police being seen as a symbol of safety. There is a sense that they are there to take away the happiness that Pearl feels. Though it might be understandable that the police are looking for Pearl. It might also be important to remember that she has not really been kidnapped. There again is no ill will being directed towards Pearl by any of the Maoris in the story. However it is clear to the reader that this is not how things will be seen by the police. As far as the police are concerned a white child has been kidnapped by two Maori women. Yet the reality is very much different. Which may be the point that Mansfield is attempting to make. She may be asking the reader to look again at how they perceive things. How things can be misleading. The title of the story as an example. If anything Pearl is being kidnapped at the end of the story rather than at the beginning of the story. She is being taken away from a place of happiness and is returning to a world in which she will have to conform to society’s perceptions of what life is. It might also be worth noting that the only time that Pearl is afraid in the story is when the police come. Any sense of freedom that Pearl may have had is to be lost.