Taking the Veil by Katherine Mansfield
In Taking the Veil by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of naivety, innocence, love, suffering and connection. Taken from her The Doves’ Nest collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises just how naive Edna really is. She allows her heart to be taken by an actor though she knows that the love she thinks she feels for him will not be reciprocated. However in defense of Edna it might be important to remember that she is just eighteen years old and does not really have much experience when it comes to affairs of the heart. With her only romantic relationship being the one that she has with Jimmy. Apart from this relationship with Jimmy Edna has no other experience when it comes to relationships with men. It is also noticeable that Edna is in many ways very melodramatic. While her mind wonders she has placed herself in a convent forgoing the love of not only Jimmy but any other possible suitor. It is as though Edna is punishing herself for how she feels about the actor and how she has treated (in her mind) Jimmy. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Edna learns through exploration of her mind what real love is. Which suggests that Edna in reality may only be partially infatuated with the actor or rather his performance on the stage.
It is the actor’s performance on the stage which has touched Edna’s heart. The actor could have been any other actor and Edna would have believed she had fallen in love with them. If anything Edna pities the character that the actor is playing and it is this pity which is pulling on Edna’s heart strings. It is possible that Edna feels a sense of identification with the character that the actor is playing. Just as Edna might feel isolated at the start of the story so too is the character in the play. It is as though two lost souls are making a connection. However the connection is not real as the actor is playing a character in a play. He is not being himself. The fact that Edna also imagines that she will enter a convent may be important as she appears to be punishing herself for how she believes she feels. There is a sense that Edna wishes to prolong her suffering which she will be able to do by entering a convent. If anything it is as though Edna is not only being melodramatic but she is also seeking martyrdom. Something that becomes clear to the reader by Mansfield’s mention of the word ‘saint’ on two occasions in the story when Edna is referring to herself.
There is also some symbolism (using colour) in the story that may be important. The library book that Edna is holding in both her house and the garden of the convent is black. Quite often in literature black is associated with darkness and there is no doubting the Edna’s mood is dark. Mansfield may be using the book and its colour to place an emphasis on Edna’s mood. It is also interesting that Edna’s mood eventually lifts when she drops the book from her lap. Mansfield also uses colour as symbolism again when Edna first sits down in the garden of the convent. There are ‘blue, shell like pansies’ and ‘a clump of creamy freesias’. Both these colours are significant as blue and white are often associated with the Virgin Mary. It is possible that Mansfield is suggesting that Edna is comparing herself to the Virgin Mary. Which again suggests the idea of martyrdom. Just as Mary had suffered when Jesus died so too is Edna suffering because she believes she is in love with the actor.
The end of the story is also interesting as Edna appears to have an epiphany or a moment of realisation. After imagining that Jimmy has visited her grave as an old man Edna realises that she is really in love with Jimmy and not the actor. It is as though Edna is aware that despite the passing of time Jimmy has never let go of her. He remains committed to Edna even after death. It is this commitment that helps Edna realise what real love is. It is also noticeable that Mansfield again uses blue and white imagery after Edna’s moment of realisation. However on this occasion Mansfield may be using both colours to highlight Edna’s innocence and how easily led she was by feelings of empathy for an actor who played a character on stage. At the end of the story there is a sense that Edna has discovered what is real and what is not real. She now knows that Jimmy’s love for her is real and the actor is just that an actor who is employed to play a character in a play. Edna at the end of the story manages to make a real connection with Jimmy. A connection she will be able to build a loving relationship on.