The Escape by Katherine Mansfield
In The Escape by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of anger, responsibility, control, selfishness, happiness, freedom, independence and ignorance. Taken from her Bliss and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of anger. The main female protagonist is irritated by the fact that she and her husband may miss the train. She appears to be placing all blame on the fact that they will miss the train on her husband. Which in many ways plays on the theme of responsibility. Throughout the beginning of the story the main protagonist is blaming her husband for the position that they find themselves in. At no stage does she attempt to take control and rectify matters. However it is noticeable as the story progresses that the main protagonist likes to control her husband, dictating to him how he should act in her company. There is a standard or image she wishes to portray of being in control of her environment when the reality is very much different. She is wholly reliant on others (her husband) to help her. Mansfield writing of a character (the main protagonist) who is if anything not independent of others. The main protagonist is on holiday in Egypt but has no idea on how to conduct herself or blend in with her surroundings. She remains a very middle class woman who is out of her depth while in Egypt and reliant on her husband to help her.
The fact that the protagonist is unable to apply the powder to her face while she is in the car may also be symbolically important. It is possible that Mansfield is affording the reader the opportunity to see the protagonist in her natural state. Without any embellishments. How she treats her husband (and others) while in the car may be how she normally treats people. Believing herself to be better than others. If anything the protagonist’s ego comes to the forefront throughout the story. The most important person in her life is herself which suggests that she may be selfish. At no stage does she show compassion or understanding to anybody else in the story. Her world appears to revolve around her alone with no consideration given to others. The fact that the protagonist also goes to retrieve the parasol by herself may also be important. Some critics may suggest that she is displaying a level of independence not previously seen in the story though it is more likely she is being stubborn and refusing the assistance of her husband.
There is also a question as to whether the protagonist and her husband are happily married. On the surface it doesn’t look like the husband could be happily married and when he wanders towards the building when he hears the woman singing the reader gets a sense that the husband is relieved to be able to escape from his wife even if it is for a brief moment in time. If anything the husband feels joy at the sound of the woman’s voice. For the first time in the story he may feel at peace with himself. No longer having to worry about accommodating his wife and her whims. A sense of freedom comes over the husband which leads to him feeling content for the first time in the story. He has forgotten about his wife and is lost in the sound of the woman’s voice. It may also be important that the protagonist is not aware of the woman singing as by keeping her ignorant of what is happening Mansfield may be symbolically suggesting that the protagonist herself is ignorant of the world around her. Again selfishly focused on herself.
The end of the story is also interesting as Mansfield appears to be continuing to explore the theme of ignorance. While on the train the protagonist has no idea as to why her husband is being so calm and happy and she make assumptions about his happiness such is her ignorance. There is also a sense that the protagonist never really understands or knows her husband. She tells the clerk of the train that her husband likes ‘roughing it’ however the reality is very different. The husband is dreaming of a life far away from the protagonist. Possibly because he is tired of how she treats not only him but others too. Throughout the story the protagonist has been self-centered. Considering her own needs and wants to be more important than others. As she returns home she has no idea that her life may change for the worse. Her husband may stand up to her and leave her. Realising that there is a world and possibly a woman that will treat him better than he is being treated by his wife. If anything the protagonist has managed to alienate her husband through her actions. Something that is symbolically noticeable by his decision to stand and look out the window of the train (dreaming of a different life) while his wife sits alone in the carriage.