The Luft Bad by Katherine Mansfield
In The Luft Bad by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of shame, appearance, dignity, insecurity, freedom, independence and acceptance. Taken from her In a German Pension collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman and after reading the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of shame. The narrator is ashamed of her body, particularly her legs. She is so self-conscious of how she looks that she hides for part of the day so that nobody will notice her legs. This is not the only thing the narrator is ashamed of or made to feel ashamed of. The women in attendance make comments about the narrator’s eating habits and suggest that she may be fooling herself when she is looking for a cure. If anything the woman with the narrator like to gossip to a person’s face or behind their back. Though everybody is at the Pension for a dietary cure it may be more appropriate if some were there for their mannerisms. Many of the women lack decorum or common sense. The narrator is being body shamed by some of the other women. Though the narrator herself does participate and challenge why some of the women are at the Pension when it will not benefit them at all.
What is also interesting about the story is that most of the women are starving themselves and it appears to be unsupervised. There does not appear to be weekly check-ups with a doctor to monitor each lady. So all is in order. Something that the reader would find outrageous if the same thing occurred today. However it does highlight how important appearance is to everybody at the Pension. How they look, particularly to others, is to the forefront of everybody’s mind. It is as though some of the ladies are in competition with one another to look the best or to lose the most weight. Again this relates closely to the diet regimes that many people put themselves under today. Rather than being happy for who they are the women in the story feel as though their physical appearance is more important as it is more noticeable to people.
There may be some symbolism in the story which is important. The umbrellas are used as devices to cover the body which may highlight just how important appearance is to each lady. The food regime lacks any type of meat and its obvious exclusion from the story suggests that by omission meat is important. Though it is true that a person can be a vegetarian or a vegan; at the time the story was written not many people were and it is certain that none of the women at the Pension are vegetarians or vegans. If they were they wouldn’t find themselves in the position they feel they are in. The story is also not a great advertisement for slimming as mentioned people’s diets are not controlled by a medical profession. The bath huts also provide shelter from the gossip and the embarrassment that the narrator feels about her legs. The reader can be certain that the narrator is the only one who is insecure about her legs.
The end of the story is also interesting as the narrator frees free enough inside herself to take to the swing, regardless of what others or she may think of her legs. This may be important as it sets the narrator apart from the other ladies who appear to frown upon the narrator for swinging on the swing. However the narrator feels she must break away from the other group of women. She knows she is not one of them. She doesn’t like to gossip nor is she keenly interested in participating in any activities with the other women. In that respect the narrator shows that she has the ability to free herself from others. However she cannot free herself from herself. She still believes her body is the wrong shape and due to the pressures of the world around her will continue to stay at the Pension. Whether or not it is good for her. She is unable to make the final leap to independence and accepting who and what she may be. A woman who feels ashamed or her body image and who may or may not obtain the weight loss that she wants.