The Little Governess by Katherine Mansfield
In The Little Governess by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of trust, innocence, appearance, fear, escape and security. 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 trust. The lady at the Governess Bureau tells the little governess not to trust others while she is travelling to Munich. She instructs the little governess that it is better to be safe than sorry. However the little governess is fooled by the appearance of Herr Regierungsrat. Who rather than being the grandfather figure that the little governess perceives him to be is in reality a sexual predator. The fact that the little governess is fooled may be important as it might suggest that the little governess is herself somewhat innocent of men. The men in the carriage beside the little governess are easier for the little governess to decipher. She doesn’t trust them due to their mannerisms towards her. If anything she considers their advance towards her to be inappropriate. Yet the same cannot be said when it comes to how the little governess thinks about Regierungsrat.
It is also clear to the reader that the little governess is afraid when Regierungsrat makes his advance. It is as though she knows that she is trapped in his home and that she has no opportunity in avoiding Regierungsrat’s advances. The fact that the little governess has never been kissed on the lips before, except by close relatives, might also be important as this would further suggest that the little governess might be innocent. She may never have had a boyfriend. In reality the little governess appears to be innocent of the world around her. She has committed herself to spending the day with a stranger in a strange city all because she considers Regierungsrat to be like a grandfather to her. If anything the little governess is being naïve for the reader does not think that she would take the same course of action in England. Where one would expect the little governess’ defenses to be raised completely. Regierungsrat through way of charm penetrates these defenses. If anything by way of charm Regierungsrat has managed to trick a very innocent young woman. Which may be the point that Mansfield is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that not everything may be what it seems. Something that is clearly true when it comes to Regierungsrat.
Mansfield may also be using foreshadowing in the story. When the little governess arrives in Europe it is dark (night time). It is possible that by having the boat dock at night when it is dark that Mansfield is suggesting the safety that the little governess may have felt in England is gone. Similarly Regierungsrat’s home is described as being dark which in many ways mirrors the event that occurs in Regierungsrat’s home Though some critics might suggest that the little governess should have known better than to spend her afternoon and evening with Regierungsrat it might be important to remember that the little governess through her innocence of what other people might really be like ended up incorrectly trusting Regierungsrat. It is also possible that the little governess wanted to experience something different in her life (Munich) and as such was blinded by who Regierungsrat really was.
The end of the story is also interesting as the little governess wants to escape from what has happened. Also the fact that she is holding her mouth on the tram suggests that she may feel as though she has been invaded in some way. Which she has. It might also be a case that the little governess is seeking comfort when she asks about Frau Arnholdt. However there is to be no comfort for the little governess. If anything the little governess is unable to find comfort when she returns to the hotel nor is she able to find an avenue of escape out of Munich. She is to remain in Munich till Frau Arnholdt returns. There is also no sense that the little governess feels secure. She has just been assaulted by Regierungsrat and her only avenue of escape is Frau Arnholdt. Yet she does not know when Frau Arnholdt will return to the hotel to collect her. It is also interesting that the little governess does not tell anybody about what has happened. As readers we are aware that the little governess encounters a policeman after she runs out of Regierungsrat’s home. Yet she does not tell him what has happened. It is difficult to say as to why the little governess remains silent. It is not due her inability to speak German. We already know that she can speak German. Perhaps the little governess feels ashamed. That she trusted someone who she thought was like a grandfather but who in fact was a sexual predator. It might also be a case that the little governess does not want others to know how naïve she has been. She is just starting out in life and has learnt a cruel lesson. Not everything is as it seems.