Late at Night by Katherine Mansfield
In Late at Night by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of pride, love, insecurity, class and acceptance. Taken from her Something Childish and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a woman called Virginia and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of pride. The narrator appears to be allowing for her pride to get in the way when she is reading the soldier’s letter. She cannot bear to think of herself in the same light that she thinks he does. She finds it common that a man might think she knit socks for him particularly when they might not be married. She if anything feels as though the soldier is belittling her despite the fact that she is a wealthy middle class woman. In her eyes she should be deemed more than suitable for a man to love or marry. Though the solider has not done anything wrong to suffer the narrator’s wrath. He will never know that he has displeased the narrator as the narrator has no intention of writing back to him.
The theme of love or the desire to be loved is self-evident in the story. The narrator feels so insecure within herself when it comes to being loved that she believes a man is the only solution to her problems or yearnings that she suffers. This may be significant as Mansfield may be suggesting that the narrator (or women in general) are insecure when it comes to matters of being or feeling loved. Believing that love is the solution to any problem they may encounter. The matter can be solved by having a man by your side. The reality however is very much different and the narrator needs to address her own insecurities before she will ever feel loved by somebody. If anything there is a strong possibility that the narrator does not love herself in a manner which allows her to be open to being loved. She is her own stumbling block to love. Something she clearly doesn’t realise.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The fire that the narrator is sitting by not only provides the narrator with comfort, as a man might, but it can also at the same time flame a destructive element in the narrator. She is prepared to burn the soldier’s letter so that she does not allow him to get the better of her or at least in her own mind not allow him to get the better of her. The fact that the narrator also believes that men run away from her when she displays her confidence could also be symbolic. Mansfield could be using the narrator’s confidence as symbolism for a new generation of women. Brave enough to find love for themselves without waiting for it to appear before them. However by having men run away Mansfield might be suggesting that men are not so confident of themselves when encountering a strong minded woman, which the narrator is.
The end of the story is also interesting as it appears as though the narrator is unable to accept the position she finds herself in. There is no real resolution to the problems that the narrator encounters. Despite wanting to burn the letter. The narrator can’t. She has allowed for the fire to go out yet the flame that burns inside her hasn’t gone out. She finds herself alone at night and desperate for company. Hence the narrator feeling the urge to go to bed and cry. There will be and has been no resolution for how the narrator feels when it comes to loving men. She is to continue being too proud and alienating herself from any suitors. Though ironically the narrator does not see things that way. Which suggests that the narrator is somewhat paralysed and unable to change. Though the world around the narrator is changing (WWI and women’s rights) the narrator herself is unable to make a change in her life. Just as she has remained alone for the duration of the story. So too will she remain alone in life.