The Tiredness of Rosabel by Katherine Mansfield

In The Tiredness of Rosabel by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of escape, loneliness, class, dissatisfaction, disillusion and happiness. Taken from her Something Childish 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 escape. While Rosabel is looking out the window of her lodgings she imagines or daydreams about what her life would be like should it have been her that Harry left the shop with rather than the young woman who bought the hat. She daydreams about living a life that is totally different to the one she finds herself living. What is also interesting about Rosabel’s daydreaming is that she imagines herself married to Harry. This may be important as it is possible that Mansfield is suggesting that Rosabel is lonely and as such longs to be married or at least have male companionship. It is also possible that Mansfield is suggesting that Rosabel is associating happiness to marriage and does not see the possibility of herself being happy should she live independently of others (men in particular) and not get married. It may also be a case that by having Rosabel escape from the realities of her own life that Mansfield is also highlighting to the reader how dissatisfied Rosabel is with her life. Something that is noticeable while Rosabel is on the bus travelling home. Not even the advertisements that Rosabel sees on the bus help her to escape from the realities of her life.

Mansfield also appears to be exploring the theme of class or at least the differences that may have existed between social classes at the time the story was written. Unlike the young woman in the shop who purchases the hat Rosabel is working class and lives a very different type of life. Rather than travelling by car or electric brougham as the young woman does Rosabel uses public transport to go from one place to another. However it is noticeable that when Rosabel daydreams about living a different life she too travels by car. At the time the story was written (1908) only the very wealthy could have afforded to own or travel by car. It is possible that by having Rosabel also travel by car that Mansfield is highlighting to the reader the aspirations that may have existed among those of a lower social class (Rosabel) to live their lives as those of a higher class may have lived.

There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. Mansfield may be using the four flights of stairs that lead to Rosabel’s room as symbolism for the struggle that exists in Rosabel’s life. The violets that Rosabel buys at the beginning of the story and later those that she imagines Harry buys for her may also have some symbolic significance. Violets as the reader would be aware are purple and purple is commonly associated with royalty. By introducing the violets into the story Mansfield may be at least symbolically highlighting Rosabel’s need to escape from the realities of her own life and imagine herself to be living a life (with Harry) that is different to what she is used to. The title of the story may also be symbolically important as Mansfield may be not only suggesting that Rosabel is physically tired (from work) but she may also be mentally tired of living the life she lives and sees no other alternative apart from daydreaming about living a life that is very much different, if not unattainable, to the life she is living.

The young woman who is reading the book on the bus may also be symbolically significant as Mansfield may be suggesting (again at the time of writing) that Rosabel is not alone in her desire to escape from the world that she knows. That other young women also felt a need to escape from the world and realities around them. Mansfield also appears to be using colour, particularly the colour white, to symbolise happiness and prosperity. The young woman who is reading the book on the bus (and who appears to be happy) and the young woman who comes into the shop to buy the hat are described as having ‘white shoulders’ and ‘white skin.’ It is only later when Rosabel is daydreaming that her own shoulders are described as ‘lovely white shoulders.’ Also when Rosabel is imagining a different life Mansfield describes her bedroom as being ‘the great, white and pink, bedroom.’ This is in contrast to Rosabel’s reality and her own lodgings which are described as being ‘dull’ and filled with ‘grey light.’ Also when Rosabel daydreams about marrying Harry she is wearing a ‘white and silver frock.’ Again Mansfield appears to be using the colour white to symbolise, at least in Rosabel’s eyes, the idea of happiness and prosperity.

The ending of the story is also interesting as despite the realities of her life, Mansfield still allows Rosabel to be optimistic though does describe her optimism as being ‘tragic’. This may be important as by calling Rosabel’s optimism tragic Mansfield may be suggesting that all that Rosabel has in her life is her daydreaming and that in reality very little will change for her. The fact that very little will change for Rosabel is noticeable when she wakes up, Mansfield telling the reader ‘the cold fingers of dawn closed over her uncovered hand.’ No longer is Rosabel wearing the white suede gloves she had imagined herself to be wearing when she was marrying Harry rather the reader senses that she is to continue as she always has dissatisfied and disillusioned with the realities of her own life.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Tiredness of Rosabel by Katherine Mansfield." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 18 Aug. 2015. Web.


  • Can you please tell me what inspired you to read Katherine Mansfield’s short text?

  • In some ways the most interesting part of the description in an extract used as part of an exam paper that I came across while tutoring is of the well off young woman’s hair and eyes. My student and I debated the Paris reference and its connotations, I suggesting that it conveyed glamour in terms of women’s fashion and she refusing to acknowledge Paris as a centre of women’s fashion which I had suggested, preferring romance as the association. We agreed that the use of gold suggested symbolically that she was well off.

    It would be interesting to get your take on this as it featured in a question on the exam paper.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I find it difficult to disagree with you (or your students). I can see how one would associate Paris with fashion and as such with glamour and Rosabel wishing to escape.

  • Thank you for your prompt reply. My reaction to Katherine Mansfield’s use of language was to call it sensuous and I read that another reader of the story has referred to it as suggestive and open to interpretation. The central character’s anger for another example was not explained in the narrative so the reader of the extract in the exam paper certainly had to read between the lines to work out what it was that justified such an extreme emotion and it seemed to me on reflection that it was to do with having and not having and possibly jealousy.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’d like to say that I don’t think jealousy is a factor with Rosabel being so young but I can’t say that for sure. Rosabel lives an ordinary and mundane life and may very well be jealous of others and their lives.

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