Pictures by Katherine Mansfield

Pictures - Katherine MansfieldIn Pictures by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of paralysis, desperation, dedication, determination, rejection and escape. Taken from her Bliss 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 using the setting of the story to explore the theme of paralysis. Having Ada lying in bed at the beginning of the story suggests she is going nowhere that she is firmly rooted in the one place which in turn may suggest a paralysis in Ada’s life. Something that becomes clearer to the reader later on in the story. It is also interesting that Mansfield uses dark colours when describing the setting as Ada is lying in bed. The reader is told that the room ‘smelled of soot’ and the iron bedstead is described as being ‘black.’ This may be important as Mansfield may be using the colour black to describe Ada’s mood. The use of dark colours also serves to act as foreshadowing to later in the story and the lack of opportunities for Ada as she goes from film company to film company looking for work. There is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Ada’s continual search for work is important as it highlights not only her dedication to finding a job to pay her rent but it also highlights her determination. At no stage in the day does Ada stop looking for work. Though it is also clear that Ada is desperate. Knowing that Miss Pine plans on throwing her out of the boarding house at eight o’clock. It is also noticeable that Ada fantasizes about finding a job and creates scenarios she believes she will find herself in. This may be important as it suggests that Ada is trying to escape from the reality she finds herself in. There is also a sense of irony in Ada escaping from her reality as for many people acting (or films) would be considered to be an escape from reality into fantasy.

The theme of rejection is self-evident in the story. Not only does Ada not manage to find any work when she visits the film companies but when she arrives at the A B C it isn’t open. Also Mr Kadgit isn’t in his office when Ada goes to Kig and Kadgit. What is interesting about Ada’s arrival at Kig and Kadgit is that she escapes into a fantasy imagining that Mr Kadgit has found her a job. So desperate is Ada to secure a job she is escaping into an unreal world. Something that is also noticeable when she imagines herself sitting in Café de Madrid and thinks she might meet a producer who is looking for a contralto singer. There is no reality in Ada’s day. When she encounters rejection she just shifts to an alternative reality that is unreal or non-existent.

It may also be important that Mansfield throughout the story introduces minor characters that are working as it suggests that there is a world outside which Ada may not necessarily be a part of. With the exception of the other actors that Ada encounters during the day every other character (though minor) is working. They are living their lives while Ada appears to be living a fantasy. The form that Ada throws into the bin may also be important as for the first time in the story there is a sense that Ada is facing reality. She knows that she can’t do any of the things mentioned on the form and ends up throwing the form in the bin and crying. However such is her determination to follow her dream she quickly picks herself back up and escapes into another fantasy. What is also significant about the form is that when Ada is reading it the narrator tells the reader that the ‘cold wind blowing; it tugged at her, slapped her face, jeered.’ This line may be important as in many ways it acts as a reality check for Ada. Though as mentioned she quickly picks herself back up.

The ending of the story is also interesting as Mansfield appears to be further exploring the theme of desperation. By having Ada leave Café de Madrid with the man the reader is aware of what his intentions are. Ada through her desperation is prepared to sell her body in order to survive. The fact that the man also puffs cigar smoke into Ada’s face may be symbolically important as in many ways the smoke acts as a cloud and it is possible that Mansfield is suggesting that Ada’s judgement for the first time in the story is being clouded. She is not thinking straight. Though again the reader is aware just how desperate Ada is. What is also interesting is that at no stage in the story does Ada give up on her aspirations to be a singer or actress. Mansfield never makes mention of Ada considering looking for work in a different profession. This may be important as it highlights Ada’s dedication to her aspirations. Though she is also prepared to take huge risks (prostitution) and live outside societal norms in pursuit of her dreams. Whether Ada is doing the right thing is left to each individual reader to decide as throughout the story the narrator has remained non-judgmental.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Pictures by Katherine Mansfield." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 5 May. 2016. Web.


  • Thank you for this review. I have recently started reading K. Mansfield and having particularly enjoyed this story I wanted to obtain another view or another perspective to run alongside my own and hopefully to enhance it. Your thoughts worked well with my own. I look forward to reading more.
    Andrea (UK)

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Andrea. It’s great to know that you found some benefit from the post. I like reading Mansfield and intend reviewing more of her stories.

      • I am conducting research on K.M. My area of research is identity crisis in the short stories of K.M. Please give me some pointers

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Thanks for the comment Sallar. Pictures is a good place to start as too is The Singing Lesson (insecurity in identity). Also An Ideal Family may help (a new identity after retirement) and Revelations (identity through comparison). The Baron may also have some points that might help (identity through class and money).

  • Really helpful, thank you

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