The Baron by Katherine Mansfield
In The Baron by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of class, loneliness, isolation and prestige. Taken from her A German Pension collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed female narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of class. There is a sense that the other diners at the guesthouse consider the Baron to be an important man, a class above themselves. They are hesitant to engage with him possibly out of fear that they might feel as though they are not worthy of talking to the Baron. The only one inquisitive enough to wonder about the Baron is the narrator which may suggest that she is the only one who is not defined by class barriers. If anything she sees the Baron as being a sad and lonely man who is no different to her or the other guests at the guesthouse. It may also be a case that Mansfield is using symbolism to suggest that there are similarities between the Baron and the other diners in the guesthouse. The Baron is eating nothing but lettuce which would have very little nutritional value and Frau Oberregierungsrat is eating an omelette that is empty, again with very little nutritional value. The expected class divide between the diners in the guesthouse and the Baron does not exist. Though all the diners appear to hold the Baron in high regard there is nothing to merit doing so. Mansfield has him dress in black a dull colour which may suggest that the Baron might have seen brighter days but for now he is no different to others. Despite the opinions of the other diners.
There is also a sense that the Baron isolates himself from others and may in fact be lonely. He dines alone and when he goes walking he does so alone too. At no stage in the story does he really communicate with others, preferring his own company and he seems to be oblivious to everything that is happening around him. His main focus is on carrying his belongings with him when he travels into town, though the reality is there is no need to do so. It is possible that by placing an emphasis on the Baron’s bag that Mansfield is suggesting that everything the Baron owns is in the bag. No longer does he live a life that many would suspect a Baron to live, a life of opulence. The Baron also dines alone in his bedroom eating double portions of food. This may be important as it is possible that the Baron is unsure of where his next meal may come from and as such is stocking up on food. Though a member of the German aristocracy the Baron does not live the type of life one would expect an aristocrat to live. Despite this he is still held in awe by some of the diners in the guesthouse. Who may be remembering a time prior to the present. When being a member of the aristocracy held some prestige.
Though there is a sense that the Baron is living a new type of life (poorer) he still remains courteous. Something that is noticeable when he offers his umbrella to the narrator. Also rather than being reticent or quiet on the journey back to the guesthouse he talks a little about himself to the narrator. This insight may be important as it gives the reader an idea into how the Baron thinks. He is living his life in total isolation from others and again it is noticeable that he has very few belongings apart from the items that are contained in his bag. It might also be important that the Baron tells the narrator that he considers servants to be untrustworthy because as readers we are aware that he is alone in the guesthouse and the days of him having servants may possibly be long gone. No longer is the Baron living the life one would expect a Baron to live with the reality being that the Baron no longer has any servants.
The ending of the story is also interesting as Mansfield appears to be further exploring the theme of class and how important it is to the other diners in the guesthouse. On hearing that the narrator has spoken to the Baron some of the other diners are friendlier with the narrator (for their own gain). They appear to associate the narrator’s conversations with the Baron as being a breakthrough or an avenue of access to the Baron. Which would suggest or highlight the importance of class to the diners in the guesthouse. If anything the narrator is being more welcomed by the other diners with the reader suspecting this new found friendship or welcome is based solely on the narrator having had a conversation with the Baron. Rather than the diners in the guesthouse being genuinely concerned or wanting to pursue a friendship with the narrator they are doing so purely in light of the fact that the narrator is the first of the diners to actually engage with the Baron. Who ironically leaves the guesthouse the following day. The diners also appear to place an element of prestige on the fact that the narrator has talked to the Baron. If anything Mansfield may have written a critique of the class system that existed at the time the story was published with individuals being more concerned about their own ego and goals than on the substance of an individual. People may have been blinded by title which seems to be the case in the story.