The Stranger by Katherine Mansfield
In The Stranger by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of insecurity, freedom, jealousy, trust, control, independence and change. Taken from her The Garden Party 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 insecurity. Throughout the story there is a sense that Hammond finds it difficult to live his life without Janey. If anything while he is on the liner there is a sense that Hammond is insecure when it comes to the fact that Janey wants to say goodbye to the doctor and the other passengers. It is as though Hammond in many ways views Janey as his possession and as such he does not wish to share her with anybody else. Which may be the point that Mansfield is attempting to make. At the time the story was written many women who were married would have had very little freedom in their marriage. The idea of a married woman talking to another man would not have been something that many men who were married would have accepted. In reality when a woman married her freedom was somewhat curtailed in line with what was accepted by society.
It is also possible that Mansfield is exploring the theme of jealousy. When Hammond learns about the man dying he is shocked to find out that Janey had been alone with him. It is as though Hammond is jealous of the dead man. That he had time with Janey while Hammond himself was alone waiting for Janey. Similarly the reader suspects that the jealousy that Hammond feels about Janey’s engagement with others is driven by the insecurity he feels. In reality it is possible that Hammond does not trust Janey. Though he is careful enough not to say this to Janey. Should Hammond discuss issues of trust with Janey he knows that he is lowering his guard. He is exposing a vulnerability that many men would consider to be a weakness. If anything the problem for Hammond is that he had no control over Janey while she was away. She was able to live her life independent of Hammond. It is this lack of control that may be the initial trigger for Hammond’s insecurity.
The fact that Hammond doesn’t want to dine in the dining room of the hotel could also be important as the reader senses that he does not wish to share Janey with anybody. If this is the case than it would suggest that Hammond wishes to control not only his environment but Janey’s too. Something he has not been able to do while Janey was away. It might also be important that Mansfield describes the fire in the hotel room as going red as symbolically it is possible that Mansfield is using the colour red as symbolism for Hammond’s anger over the fact that Janey helped the dead man. Also the room is described as going cold which may also mirror how Hammond feels towards Janey on discovery of her actions with the dead man. It is also noticeable that once Janey has left the boat. Hammond does not let her out of his sight. He wants her near him at all times. This too could be important as it would further suggest that not only is Hammond insecure but he also wishes to control Janey. Allowing her no independence. If anything the reader senses again that Hammond views Janey as his possession rather than as his wife. Which may have been how many men treated their wives at the time. There is no sense of equality in the marriage.
The end of the story is interesting as Mansfield appears to be exploring the theme of change. After Hammond has been advised of everything that happened with the dead man he embraces Janey. However this action is somewhat ironic if not desperate. Hammond knows things will never be the same again between him and Janey. She has shared what Hammond considers to be a private moment with someone who is not her husband and there is a sense that Hammond is alone in the world. Life for Hammond has changed forever. It is as though he can no longer trust Janey due to her actions. Though some readers might suggest that Hammond is greatly over exaggerating matters. Janey has not been intimate with another man but this is not how Hammond sees it. For Hammond Janey has done the unthinkable and spent time alone with another man. The fact that the man was dying is not important to Hammond. He cannot see that Janey was comforting the man as he died. That her act was selfless. At the end of the story Hammond may be embracing Janey but the reality is he feels as though he doesn’t really know who Janey is anymore.