The Man Without a Temperament by Katherine Mansfield
In The Man Without a Temperament by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of discontent, marriage, independence, connection, responsibility, selfishness, honesty and conflict. Taken from her Bliss 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 discontent. Robert throughout the story does everything for Jinnie. However it is noticeable that he considers each action he does for Jinnie to be more like a chore than an act of devotion or dedication. If anything it is possible that Robert and Jinnie’s marriage is loveless. Something that may be attributed to the fact that Robert considers Jinnie to be a burden. It is also possible that Robert is only doing the things that he is doing for Jinnie because he believes he has to. That he has made a commitment to Jinnie through marriage and as such must be there for her through her illness. If anything this approach by Robert could be considered to be dishonest. Not only to Robert himself but to Jinnie too. There is also a sense that Robert is acting fraudulently. Emotionally he is not connected to Jinnie and it would seem that he would much prefer to be back in London rather than nursing Jinnie in France.
It is also noticeable that it is Jinnie who starts most of the conversations between herself and Robert. This could be important as it could suggest that Robert is in many ways disconnected from Jinnie. He may be physically there for Jinnie but emotionally or mentally he is further away. Something that is noticeable by the inclusion of the pieces of the narrative that take the reader back to London. The pieces of narrative that are based in London may be important as they appear to highlight a happier time for Robert. When he could be himself rather than at the beck and call of Jinnie. Though some critics might suggest that all that Robert is seeking is independence from Jinnie and her illness. It is also possible that some readers might suggest that Robert is acting selfishly. Thinking only of himself. Either way what is certain is that Robert manages to suppress how he feels about the circumstances he finds himself in. None of the other guests at the resort would know that Robert was discontent.
The fact that Robert’s arm is described as ‘stiff’ when Jinnie goes to hold onto it may also have some symbolic significance. It is as though Robert does not want Jinnie to touch him and if anything he may wish to distance himself physically from Jinnie. If anything Robert is in a position that he is uncomfortable with. His wife is ill, he wishes to go back to London because London is his life. Yet he is in conflict with himself. As mentioned he feels obliged to be by Jinnie’s side due to the fact that he is married to her. However he is not only uncomfortable with the position he finds himself in but he is also unhappy. Jinnie on the other hand knows that she is a burden to Robert but tries her best not to be. If anything she allows Robert the freedom to roam around the resort and the local town. It is as though she knows that Robert must have some time for himself. Something that is symbolically noticeable by the fact that Robert hands his watch to Jinnie. He is on his own time.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader gets a deeper insight into exactly how Robert feels about Jinnie. The last line of the story in particular says so much. Mansfield using one word to describe how Robert feels. It is as though Robert has lost all patience and can no longer live the life he is living (in the resort). The pull of London is too much for him. His whole life has been taken over by looking after Jinnie and Robert just doesn’t want to make the commitment that one would expect a husband to make to a wife. Which may be the point that Mansfield is attempting to make. Robert cannot or does not want be there when Jinnie really needs him. She is a burden that Robert no longer wishes to carry. However the reader does not suspect that Robert will completely abandon Jinnie. Rather he will grow bitter as time progresses and end up blaming his position in life not on Jinnie’s illness but on Jinnie herself. Throughout the story Robert has lacked any warmth towards Jinnie and appears to have taken the course of action he has when it came to helping Jinnie because he felt a responsibility to. At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that any of Robert’s actions towards Jinnie were as a result of his love for her. He has a responsibility to Jinnie as her husband but he no longer loves her.