Sixpence by Katherine Mansfield
In Sixpence by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of freedom, control, bravery, forgiveness, guilt and uncertainty. Taken from her Something Childish 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 freedom. Dicky, though his mother doesn’t like it, expresses himself to the best of his ability. He runs around the garden staying away from his mother when she is calling him. It is as though Dicky is free or feels free to do as he wishes. Even if it is going against his mother’s will. This may be significant as Mansfield may be allowing for a character in the story to express themselves or allow them to do innocently as they would see fit. Dicky isn’t prepared to take orders from the girl servant or his mother. As far as he is concerned he is free to do as he likes, regardless of what others may think. Which is a trait that is admirable in a person. Dicky shows no fear when it comes to others.
The theme of control or rather the lack of it is self-evident in the story. Mrs Bendall has lost complete control over Dicky. No matter what she does Dicky is not prepared to adhere to her ways. It is left to Dicky’s father to discipline him even though he feels guilty about hitting Dicky and does not really know why he did it. So clouded in anger is Mr Bendall that he cannot see that he is in the wrong. It is only when Dicky calls Mr Bendall ‘Daddy’ that he begins to realise that Dicky can forgive him. Though he can’t forgive himself. Even when he runs into the garden things get worse for Mr Bendall. There is nothing he can do but attempt to bribe Dicky. Hoping that this will be enough for Dicky. Mrs Bendall on the other hand and on the advice of Mrs Spear’s is adamant that Dicky should be punished and punished by his father. This may be important as it feels as though Mrs Bendall is pushing her own problems with Dicky onto another person. She feels free to admit she has lost control over Dicky but is not prepared to do anything about it herself.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which is significant. The slipper that Mr Bendall uses to hit Dicky is out of place. Slippers are meant for feet not for holding in one’s hand and hitting another person. It is possible that Mansfield by introducing the slipper into the story is suggesting that the beating that Dicky takes is as out of place as holding a slipper in one’s hand. Mrs Spears though only briefly mentioned also acts as a foil to Mrs Bendall’s character. It is through Mrs Bendall’s uncertainty of what to do with Dicky. That Mrs Spears influences Mrs Bendall. She is a motivator to disharmony and chaos in not only Mrs Bendall’s life but more important and without knowing it. In Mr Bendall’s life. The sixpence that Mr Bendall gives Dicky is also important as it symbolizes corruption. One corruption attempting to cover up another corruption.
The end of the story is interesting as Mansfield appears to be further exploring the theme of uncertainty. Mr Bendall when he leaves the sixpence on Dicky’s pillow is uncertain as to whether Dicky is prepared to forgive him. This too may be significant as there is already a sense that Dicky does not hold any grudges against his father for hitting him. Which in reality makes Dicky the braver and stronger man in the relationship between father and son. It is also noticeable that Mr Bendall vows never to hit Dicky again. It is as though he realises he was wrong. Yet the sixpence may not be good enough. At least not for Mr Bendall who may have acted out of character when it came to hitting Dicky. He does after all not fully realise why he has hit his son. He has been instructed to do so by Mrs Bendall. Yet Mrs Bendall isn’t prepared to admit that Dicky has gotten the better of her. The real blame in the story likes with Mrs Bendall for following archaic methods when it comes to disciplining children.