Six Years After by Katherine Mansfield
In Six Years After by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of acceptance, compliance, selfishness, control and paralysis. Taken from her The Collected 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 acceptance and compliance. While both protagonists are on the deck of the steamer it becomes clear to the reader that the male protagonist (husband) is unhappy with the weather conditions and decides to move to the other side of the steamer where the conditions are not so harsh. What is important about the husband’s actions is that his wife fully accepts and complies with his decision to move to the other side of the steamer. Even though the reader is aware that she is not as bothered by the weather as her husband is. It is also noticeable that the husband is controlling his wife throughout the story. It is on his decisions that actions are taken with little consideration given to the wife. Again there is a sense that she will accept and comply with each of his requests or decisions. The husband appears to find it easier to live his life when it is him who makes the decisions for both himself and his wife. Which in many ways suggests that the husband is the one who controls the marriage. The reality being that he may only be selfishly thinking about himself.
It is also possible that Mansfield is using the husband’s eyes, which narrow at one stage of the story, as symbolism to suggest that the husband is narrow-minded when it comes to any type of equality within his marriage. Every decision throughout the story is made by the husband. When it comes to paying the steward the wife wishes it was her who controlled the finances rather than her husband. Where she would like to pay the steward five shillings the reality is that her husband only gives him one shilling. Which in many ways may highlight just how selfish the husband is. Though some critics may suggest he is being prudent or frugal. It is also noticeable that after the steward is given the shilling the wife does not dispute her husband’s actions. This may be important as it would further highlight the theme of acceptance and compliance. The wife is in total agreement with her husband. As to why the wife never questions her husband is difficult to say. Though if the reader takes into consideration the time the story was written (early twentieth century) it would have been unusual for a wife to question their husband. With society viewing a wife’s place in a marriage as being subservient or answerable to their husband. Similarly many women would not have been treated as being equal to men with society again having very distinctive gender roles. With few women managing to live their lives outside the preconceived roles which a male dominated society attached to the female.
The title of the story may also be important as it is possible that the title refers to how long it has been since the couple’s son has died. It is also possible, though not clearly stated, that the couple’s son may have been killed while fighting in World War I. By also having the wife/mother remember her son as a child it may be a case that Mansfield is suggesting that the mother has never let go of her son and will always remember him as a vulnerable child. This may be important as it is also possible that the vulnerability that the mother remembers her son by may mirror the vulnerability that many (if not all) young men felt when they fought in World War I. It might also be a case that the mother feels vulnerable herself and may be living her life as if it was a bad dream. Similar to those which her son had.
Mansfield also appears to be exploring the theme of paralysis. It is not a coincidence that both the husband and wife are sitting down motionless on the deck of the steamer. Though the steamer may be moving the couple remain static or in the same place. Symbolically it is possible that Mansfield is suggesting that how the couple live their lives (or relationship) will remain unchanged, there will be no progress or movement forward. The will remain the same. The wife will continue to adhere to her husband’s instructions. Doing as he tells her to do. Also her inability to let go of her son further suggests a paralysis. She continues to remember him and his memory can still affect her. Though this is to be expected. Symbolically the final sentence of the story is also interesting particularly the last word ‘waited.’ It may be a case that Mansfield is suggesting that the mother will always be waiting for her son. That she will never be able to let go of him and that she will always remember him when he was at his most vulnerable. Not only when he was a child and had bad dreams but when he was a young man fighting in World War I. She may also forever imagine what life might have been like should her son not have died.