The Doll’s House by Katherine Mansfield
In The Doll’s House by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of class, prejudice, connection, hope, appearance and equality. Taken from her The Doves’ Nest 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 class. The Burnell family, with the exception of Kezia, consider themselves to be above others particularly when it comes to the Kelveys. It would appear that the Burnells define themselves by their social status (or class) and due to the fact that Mrs Kelvey is a working class woman and the possible fact that Mr Kelvey is in prison the Burnells consider themselves to be above the Kelveys. There is also a sense that the Burnell’s are ostracizing the Kelvey’s simply because they may be different to them. If anything it is possible that the Burnell’s do not wish to associate themselves with the Kelvey’s because of the Kelvey’s appearance (both physical and social).
It is also noticeable that the other children (and the teacher) in the school, like the Burnells, also consider themselves to be better than the Kelveys. Again this assumption appears to be based not only on the working class status of Mrs Kelvey but also by the fact that Mrs Kelvey is so poor that she needs to dress her daughters with cloth from items that her neighbours no longer need. If anything all the characters (again with the exception of Kezia) in the story judge the Kelveys based on, not only their perceived lower class status but also by their physical appearance. Just as Lil and Else look different to those around them by the way they are dressed, the other children (and the Burnells and the teacher) view the Kelveys as being different. Each character in the story (again with the exception of Kezia) is prejudicial towards the Kelveys.
The fact that neither Lil or Else speak throughout the story (although Else does speak at the end) may also be important as by not allowing (or having) either child speak Mansfield may be suggesting that in life, neither Lil or Else have a voice (or remain unheard). It is also noticeable that Kezia too, is limited in what she can say. It is left to Isabel to tell the children in the school about the doll’s house, based purely on the fact that she is the oldest of the Burnell children. In many ways by not allowing the Kelvey girls and Kezia to speak, Mansfield is connecting each of them to each other. She is allowing them to be the same or equal, removing any class distinction that may exist.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be significant. The doll’s house itself can be seen to symbolise the upper class Burnells. By associating the doll’s house with the Burnells, Mansfield is possibly suggesting that the Burnells, because they are the only people with a doll’s house, are likewise different to those around them (they are upper class). Something that is a little clearer to the reader when Mansfield tells the reader that Mrs Burnell only sent her children to the local school, not because she felt it would be good for them but because there was no other school available. It may also be important that there is a smell coming from the doll’s house. It is possible that by introducing the smell to the house, symbolically Mansfield is also suggesting that all is not right with the Burnells (socially prejudiced).
The gate that Kezia is sitting on, and which she swings open may also be symbolic. It is possible that Mansfield is likening the gate (at least symbolically) to the social prejudice that Mrs Burnell (and others) have towards the Kelveys. By allowing Kezia to open the gate to Lil and Else, Mansfield may be suggesting that likewise, Kezia is removing any obstruction or social prejudice towards Lil and Else, so that both can be just like the other children in the story, to be their equal. The little lamp inside the doll’s house may also be important as Mansfield may be using it to symbolise hope or connection. Of all the children only Kezia and Else seem to be impressed by the lamp. This may be important as it is possible that symbolically (through the lamp), Mansfield is not only allowing hope into Else’s (and Lil’s) life, so that they can be treated as equals to the other children in the story but Mansfield may also be directly connecting Else and Kezia, tearing down any class barriers that may exist between both girls and which may have been built by Mrs Burnell or Aunt Beryl.
The ending of the story is also interesting. Despite the continued social prejudice of Aunt Beryl (by telling Lil and Else to go home and not come back again), Else appears to be unaffected. As she is sitting beside Lil, she tells her ‘I seen the little lamp.’ This line may be important as it not only connects Else to Kezia but by seeing the lamp, Else realises that she is no different to Kezia. Through Kezia’s breaking down of any class barrier that may have existed between Lil, Else and herself, Else (and Lil) are allowed to be just like all the other children (equal) in the story.