The Daughters of the Late Colonel by Katherine Mansfield
In The Daughters of the Late Colonel by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of freedom, control, isolation, uncertainty, paralysis, fear and letting go. Taken from her The Garden Party and Other 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 freedom. There is a sense that neither Constantia nor Josephine are free. Something that is symbolically noticeable by the fact that neither woman leaves the family home except to go to the cemetery to bury their father. It is as though both women are imprisoned by their circumstances. That being having had to look after their father who by all means may have been a controlling bully. It is also interesting that neither Constantia nor Josephine ever married having spent the entirety of their lives looking after their father. Even in his death the Colonel appears to have control over both women. With both fearing how their father might feel considering that he has been buried. Though irrational this thought process may be important as it highlights to the reader the fear that both Constantia and Josephine feel when it comes to their father.
Cyril’s engagement with his grandfather (the Colonel) is also interesting as he appears to understand just how difficult a man the colonel is. The fact that Cyril is not keen to spend much time in the house could also be important as it suggests again that he is fully aware of the environment that Constantia and Josephine live in. If anything the Colonel may have been a problematic sort of man something that is noticeable by the fact that he has fallen out with friends. It may also be important that Mansfield makes no mention of any of the Colonel’s friends attending his funeral. Similarly neither Constantia nor Josephine appear to have any friends which could further suggest that their lives revolved around the Colonel. If anything there is a sense that both women are isolated from the world. Something that becomes clearer to the reader by the fact that neither Constantia nor Josephine have ever had a male companion. It is also interesting that when Constantia and Josephine go into their father’s room. They are afraid. Though they have no need to be. It is as though they feel their father would disapprove of their actions. This could be important as it further highlights the control that the Colonel has over his daughters.
It is also possible that both women’s emotional growth may have been stunted by the fact that the Colonel did not allow either woman to grow as a person. In reality both women’s development may have been paralysed by the control exerted over them by the Colonel. It is as though they are unable to let him go. The colonel has dictated the direction of both Constantia and Josephine’s life and now that he is dead they are uncertain as to which direction to take. They lack the ability to think independently for themselves. So overpowering was the Colonel’s influence that neither woman knows what to do with their lives. Their time had been spent at the beck and call of their father. Yet now they have a new found freedom in their lives they still are unsure what to do. Which may further suggest a sense of paralysis in both women’s lives.
The end of the story is also interesting as the Colonel’s influence can still be seen. Something that is noticeable when the barrel organ is playing outside the house. Both Constantia and Josephine panic somewhat as they know their father did not like the sound of the barrel organ. However they pause and reflect on their lives for a moment when they realise they don’t need to stop the barrel organ from playing. This brief reflection and Constantia’s looking at the Buddha may be important as for a moment Mansfield may be affording both women the possibility to change their lives. However the fact that both Constantia and Josephine forget what they want to say to one another suggests there will be no change in either woman’s life. They are to remain disconnected from the world or paralysed. Living as they have always lived controlled by their father or at least his memory. There will be no sense of freedom for either woman and the best they can hope for is for Cyril to visit them. With no immediate family of their own life has passed both women by and the reader is left suspecting that both women may be fully aware of what they have lost or missed out on in life. Thanks to their devotion and dedication to the Colonel neither Constantia nor Josephine have been able to let their father and his influence go. Though the Colonel is dead he remains in control of his daughters.