The Little Girl by Katherine Mansfield
In The Little Girl by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of fear, control, freedom, independence, acceptance, compassion and change. Taken from her Something Childish 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 control. There is a sense that Kezia, like her mother and the servants in the house are answerable to her father. Their role appears to be one of responsibility to him. If anything he controls each individual. It may also be important that each individual mentioned in the house, with the exception of Kezia’s father, is female. It is possible that Mansfield is attempting to highlight to the reader the control that the male exerts over the female (at the time the story was written). How detrimental this level of control is to Kezia is noticeable through how she engages with her father. She stutters when she talks to him as if she is in fear of him. Which might suggest that rather than having a loving relationship or a close bond with her father she lives her life not only in fear of him but wary of him too. Unsure of how he might treat her.
Though the reader does not know Kezia’s age it can be assumed from the title of the story that she is still very young, possibly younger than four or five. This may be important as Kezia may have not yet learned or may not yet understand the role of the female in society (again at the time the story was written). Where one would expect her to live her life with an element of freedom due to the fact that she is a child. This is not the case. As soon as her father arrives home she has duties to fulfill just like her mother and the servants in the house. At all times her father’s needs must be met. It might also be worth noting that none of the female characters in the story have any independence due to having to accommodate each and every need (or whim) that Kezia’s father might have. At all stages throughout the story he exerts some amount of control. Something that is acceptable to all of the characters in the story.
There are also several incidents in the story which may be important. After Kezia is hit with the ruler by her father. The next time she sees him she keeps her hands hidden behind her back such is her fear that he might hit her again. The introduction of the Macdonalds to the story may also be important. Mansfield appears to deliberately situate them in a garden which suggests an idyllic environment in comparison to Kezia’s. Who Mansfield keeps indoors for most of the story. If anything Kezia is not only emotionally and mentally confined or restricted in the house but she is also physically confined. It is also possible that Mansfield is suggesting that a father who plays with their children (rather than dictate to them as Kezia’s father does) will be closer to their child and as a result the child will be happier. Environmentally Kezia’s father is close to her (in the house) but does not play with his daughter. He treats her as he does his wife and the servants. Kezia as previously mentioned is at his beck and call. Always answerable to him rather than being allowed the time or opportunity to be a child.
The end of the story is also interesting as Mansfield appears to be exploring the theme of compassion and change. When Kezia finds it difficult to sleep. Her father rather than scolding her allows her to sleep in his bed with him. For the first time in the story he is allowing Kezia’s feelings (and fears from the nightmare) to take precedence. He is acting as one would accept a father (or parent) to do. He is putting his child first. The fact that Kezia is also allowed rub her feet against her father’s legs may also be significant as it suggests that Kezia’s father understands his daughter. He is connecting with her. How important this connection is to Kezia is noticeable by the fact that she begins to forgive her father for his previous actions and takes into consideration that the anger he had shown towards her was a result of him having had to work so hard. It is also interesting that Mansfield ends the story with the line ‘What a big heart you’ve got father dear.’ In literature the heart would usually be associated with love and it is possible that Mansfield is suggesting that though Kezia’s father showed her no paternal love till the end of the story. He does despite his actions have the capacity to love his daughter just as Mr. Mcdonalds appears to love his children. Though whether this capacity to love is continuous is difficult t to say as Mansfield ends the story without the reader knowing Kezia’s father’s response to his daughter.