Susannah by Katherine Mansfield
In Susannah by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of excitement, responsibility, stubbornness, embarrassment, punishment and forgiveness. Taken from her The Collected Stories collection the reader realises after reading the story that Mansfield is giving two versions of the same event. In the first version Susannah is excited and inquisitive about the exhibition. She can’t wait for the day to arrive. What is also interesting about the first version of the story is the fact that Susannah’s father is held up on a pedestal by his wife. When Susannah asks what would happen her father should he work Saturday and Sunday. Rather than being reasonable with Susannah her mother tells Susannah that her father would die. Though this may seem to be a harmless or simply flippant remark. It is still nonetheless an inappropriate answer for a child to hear. It is as though Susannah’s mother does not wish to take responsibility for Susannah (or her sisters). Rather she prefers to pawn them off on Miss Wade. Such is the class that Susannah’s mother believes herself to belong to. If anything the reader is left wondering as to what Susannah’s mother must do all day if the responsibility for the children is left to Miss Wade.
The first version of the story also feels like a version that an adult would tell another adult in order to save embarrassment. Everything or nearly everything is picture perfect. The children are excited. They are grateful to their father and all appears to be well. The second version however feels truer to life. Susannah acting stubbornly and refusing to go to the exhibition. Her mother scolding her for not being grateful to her husband and Susannah slowly bending down in a position that might be considered to be seeking forgiveness. This version of events is most likely what has happened. Susannah for her own reasons does not wish to go to the exhibition and Mansfield may be asking for the reader to enter a child’s mind. It simply could be that Susannah does not feel up to going to the exhibition or that she is in a mood over an event that might have occurred earlier. Either way she is not going to oblige her parents. Regardless of what they may think of her.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The teapot the girls try and drink tea from is broken. In many ways this may mirror Susannah’s spirit. It too has been broken by an unknown event. Hence her refusal to go to the exhibition. The building of the exhibition might also be significant as in many ways it raises the mood within the house. Everybody, including Susannah, is excited for the day the exhibition starts. Miss Wade herself is important as she is the engine that keeps the family, at least the children, going. Though she is constantly working throughout the story. Leaving the reader to again suggest that Susannah’s mother does very little if anything.
At the end of the story it is difficult to say if there is any resolution. Susannah, as per the second version of the story, looks like she is being sent to bed for punishment. This alone is interesting as it highlights to the reader the methods employed by Susannah’s parents when one of the children steps out of line? At no point does anyone ask Susannah why she doesn’t want to go to the exhibition. Surely this would be a pertinent question to ask. The resulting answer might deescalate tensions and may even result in Susannah going to the exhibition. It is also noticeable that there is no unity between Susannah and her sisters. When they agree with their mother about what could happen their father should he work Saturday and Sunday. They don’t know the answer either but just pretend to because they are older and do not wish to look foolish. Even though the question deserves a proper answer. Susannah after all is only trying to learn about life. A life that if the second version of the story is to be believed is very back and white with there only ever being a right and wrong and Susannah according to her mother is in the wrong. Hence the punishment.