Such a Sweet Old Lady by Katherine Mansfield

In Such a Sweet Old Lady by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of paralysis, unhappiness, gender roles, choice, control, loss and loneliness. 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 paralysis. Mrs Travers makes very little if any movement throughout the story. Symbolically this could be significant as it suggests that Mrs Travers is going nowhere. Her room has been picked for her by her daughter Ernestine. Who appears to be in control of her mother’s life or at least their holiday? If anything Mrs Travers does not have a voice. Something that is also symbolically noticeable by the fact that she wakes at four thirty every morning. The world is asleep yet Mrs Travers is awake. Mansfield’s use in both the title of the story and in the text of the word ‘old’ suggests two things. Firstly that Mrs Travers is of an elderly age but more important she is someone who is not expected to do anything for herself. Something which is very true in the story and which leads to the further sense of paralysis.

It is also possible that Mansfield is exploring gender roles through Henry’s character and his watch. The watch worked perfectly for Henry whereas Mrs Travers feels as though the watch never really suited her. However it is the only thing mentioned of Henry’s that Mrs Travers has in her possession. Yet it sits uncomfortable with her. Just as the role of the women at the time may have sat uncomfortably with many women. It was a patriarchal society with men being the dominant force. Mrs Travers may feel at a loss without Henry by her side. Though it is noticeable that Ernestine is there to take her father’s place. So in a generation the gender roles may have balanced themselves out. The reader is also left wondering as to why Mrs Travers goes on holiday when she doesn’t like it. Again there may be an issue of control. Mrs Travers family may be controlling her and considering that they are doing the right thing. Helping Mrs Travers.

The fact that Mrs Travers does not have a voice also plays on the idea that Mrs Travers is ‘old’ or frail. She is not expected to disagree with Ernestine yet the reader suspects that she longs to disagree with her. There may still be life ticking away like the watch within Mrs Travers regardless of what others might think. It is as though Mrs Travers has reached an age in whereby she does not have a choice in matters. Though Ernestine is being good willed she is being so at the detriment of her mother. Nobody would wish for their voice to be taken away from them. Yet this is exactly what is happening to Mrs Travers. She is not asked for an opinion on matters and due to her subservience to Henry she is also subservient to Ernestine. If anything Mrs Travers is too placid allowing for people to walk all over her. Though some critics might suggest that Mrs Travers is near the end of her life and as such should not be hindered with menial tasks. However she still should be allowed to pick her own hotel bedroom.

The end of the story is interesting as the reader gets an insight into just how lonely Mrs Travers actually is. She misses Henry, her life partner. She has no control over her life and she is waking in the middle of the night for no particular reason. If anything Mrs Travers lives an uncomfortable life yet her surroundings are not uncomfortable. Which may be the point that Mansfield is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that a person cannot be judged by appearance. One has to live an individual’s life in order to understand them and there would be very few people who on understanding Mrs Travers would want to live her life. As mentioned she is completely controlled by Ernestine and living an unhappy and dark life. A darkness matched symbolically by Mrs Travers waking at four thirty in the morning alone and unable to get back to sleep. She lives with her thoughts but has no outlet for them.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Such a Sweet Old Lady by Katherine Mansfield." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 21 Jan. 2020. Web.

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