The Canary by Katherine Mansfield

In The Canary by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of loneliness, sadness, letting go, hope and love. Taken from her The Doves’ Nest collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman and after reading the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of letting go. The narrator feels so attached if not in love with the canary that she is unable to let him go despite his passing. The nail for his cage is still outside and the narrator can never see herself removing it. This may be important as if further suggests that the narrator is unable to let go of the canary. It is as though the narrator lived each day just to talk to the canary and hear him sing. If anything the canary was company for the narrator. She appears to live a relatively lonely life with very little or no company. The three men who stay temporarily with her consider her to be strange because of her affection for the canary but this does not bother the narrator.  Which might suggest that in some way the narrator though a lonely person is also quite strong. She is able to dismiss the opinion of others when it comes to the canary showing an internal strength.

There is also no doubting that the narrator is exceptionally sad since the canary has passed away. He was her life in totality. His singing cheered her up and his presence took away the narrator’s loneliness. It may also be significant that the narrator has not replaced the canary with either another canary or animal for company. She seems to accept that she will be forever sad and lonely not only because the canary has died but because sadness and loneliness according to the narrator are part of the human condition. People will inevitably always feel some type of sadness though they may not necessarily know what is driving the sadness. This insight by the narrator into the human condition may also be significant as it suggests that the narrator is in touch with her emotions. She is clever enough to realise that one cannot always be happy and that an individual will inevitability always return to sadness. Though again they may not know why. However some critics might suggest that an individual’s return to sadness is driven by loneliness and an internal longing by an individual to connect with others (including animals).

It is self-evident that Mansfield is exploring the theme of love. Not only did the narrator love the canary but she also had a capacity to love other things too. The evening star is an example. This may be important as it allows for there to be some hope in the narrator’s life. If she has firstly loved the evening star and then the canary she may very well eventually end up loving something or somebody else. Which will help the narrator to progress through what can only be described as a lonely life. In reality the narrator longs for some form of comfort in her life to combat the loneliness she feels. Whether that contact is human is another thing though there is no suggestion that the narrator would be adverse to human company. She has the capacity to enjoy the company of the evening star and the canary which suggests she also has the capacity to enjoy human company.

There are also several mentions of the canary’s cage in the story. Symbolically this may be important as Mansfield may be using the cage to emphasise the idea of feeling caged or trapped. Which the narrator appears to be. She is trapped by her environment and the life she lives. Though the narrator may have the capacity to love another person it is interesting that there is no mention of another person who might be considered a love interest for the narrator. It is as though the narrator may have been beaten by both loneliness and sadness. It is also noticeable that the narrator has the ability to feel. Not only loss but love too. This again would suggest that the narrator has the capacity to love again. However what or who she may love again is unknown to the reader. Though the narrator is sad and lonely she still has a slight bit of hope in her life. Something that is clear to the reader by the fact that the narrator is telling her story. She is attempting to let go of the sadness she feels though at the same time she knows that it is part of the human condition. It’s just a matter of whether or not the narrator has the ability to pick herself up again and love again. Some critics will suggest that due to the human condition the narrator will always be sad however there are some people who still have hope in their lives. It may be a case that the narrator is one of these people. Her sense of sadness may stay with her for a period of time as too will her loneliness but she may still have hope to love again in the future.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Canary by Katherine Mansfield." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 5 Sep. 2017. Web.


  • How old is the narrator with evidence from the text

  • I loved this short review. You’ve done a nice job. Although I was wondering if the story had a more personal connection to the Katherine’s life as she did let go of someone she was married to, someone who was known for singing, or perhaps it was another one of her lovers which she felt social pressure not to be with as it might’ve been symbolized by the cage.

  • Could the woman in the The canary describe the singing of the bird?

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