Mr. and Mrs. Dove by Katherine Mansfield
In Mr. and Mrs. Dove by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of uncertainty, insecurity, hope, loneliness, control, disappointment, acceptance and paralysis. Taken from her The Garden Party and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of uncertainty and insecurity. While Reggie is in his room he is apprehensive about the task ahead of him (asking Anne’s parents for Anne’s hand in marriage). He is uncertain as to whether he is good enough as a person for Anne’s parents to allow him to marry their daughter. He spends his time questioning himself which may suggest that rather than being confident about the task ahead of him Reggie is in fact insecure about not only asking for Anne’s hand in marriage but he may also be insecure about who he is. If anything he lacks confidence, questioning himself as to whether Anne’s parents will approve of him. If anything this lack of confidence or insecurity seems to raise doubts in Reggie’s mind as to his suitability to be Anne’s husband.
It is also possible that Reggie is driven not only by love but by hope too. It is clear to the reader that despite Reggie’s insistence that he is not lonely in Rhodesia the reality may be very different. Reggie may very well feel lonely in Rhodesia and by marrying Anne it may be a case that Reggie believes his life will be better. It is also interesting that Reggie dreams about being happy with Anne (on the train) as this would further compound the idea that Reggie feels lonely. It is as though he feels incomplete without Anne. It may also be significant that while Reggie is at home with his mother there is also a sense of anxiety about his arrangements with his mother. It could be a case that Reggie longs to live a different life. One in which his mother may not necessarily be involved with. It is as though Reggie has reached a point or stage in his life when he is completely discontent. Not only is he unhappy in Rhodesia but he also appears to be unhappy while recuperating (for six months) at his mother’s home. It is also possible that just as Reggie’s mother is controlling the environment in her garden, by pruning, so too may Reggie feel as though his mother is controlling his life. This sense that Reggie is being controlled by his mother is noticeable by Reggie’s refusal to smoke in his room. The reader aware that his mother does not like him smoking in the room.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. The two doves are obviously symbolic of Reggie and Anne’s relationship. Just as Mr. Dove follows Mrs. Dove so too does Reggie follow Anne. It is Anne who takes the lead throughout the story with Reggie following her. He at no stage in the story sees anything negative about Anne or how she might be treating him (continually laughing at him). Though it may also be important to remember that Reggie is blinded by love. It could also be a case that Mansfield is using the cigarettes that Reggie and Anne are smoking as not only a foreshadowing device but as symbolism too. When Reggie extinguishes his cigarette in the green ash-tray Mansfield describes the cigarette as being stumped savagely. This description may be important as Mansfield may be suggesting that just as the cigarette has been extinguished ‘savagely’ so too will any hopes or aspirations that Reggie has when it comes to marrying Anne. The fact that the ash-tray is green could also be significant as green in literature is usually associated with rejuvenation. Something that will not happen for Reggie. Physically Reggie’s life has been rejuvenated after six months away from Rhodesia but any hopes that he has had for his life to be better or more fulfilling (with Anne) will not materialize.
The end of the story is also interesting as Mansfield appears to be not only further exploring the theme of control but also exploring the theme of acceptance or rather the lack of it. As Reggie is walking away from Anne he turns back towards her when she calls him Mr. Dove. This may be important as it suggests that Reggie despite having been rejected by Anne is not only unable to accept the rejection but Anne may still have an ability to control him. Just as Mrs. Dove appears to be able to control the movements of Mr. Dove so too is Anne able to control Reggie. In many ways Reggie remains paralyzed or unable to move on from Anne. Having been beaten by life in Rhodesia now Reggie is also beaten by Anne. His hope that he may marry Anne has not been realised yet he is unable to leave her behind and continue on with his life. In many ways Mansfield has reversed preconceived gender roles. Where it is usually perceived that a woman is dependent on a man at the end of the story it is Reggie who remains reliant on Anne.