The Voyage by Katherine Mansfield
In The Voyage by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of innocence, responsibility, change and moving on. Taken from her The Garden Party and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and it would appear that the narrator’s point of view, mirrors that of the main protagonist in the story, Fenella. What is also noticeable early on in the story is that Mansfield appears to be exploring the theme of innocence. As the boat is pulling away from the wharf, Mansfield tells the reader that ‘silently the dark wharf began to slip, to slide, to edge away from them (Fenella and her grandmother).’ This line is significant as it suggests that Fenella believes that it is the wharf that is moving, rather than the boat. This in turn may suggest that Fenella is innocent. Also by describing Mrs Crane as looking ‘astonished’ (in Fenella’s eyes), when Mrs Crane discovers the sandwiches on the boat are two pence each, it is possible that Mansfield is suggesting that Fenella, does not understand that her grandmother considers the sandwiches to be expensive which again may suggest Fenella is innocent of the world around her.
It is also noticeable that while Mrs Crane is in the cabin, stripping and getting ready for bed, Fenella is unable to describe her grandmother’s clothing. Mansfield telling the reader that Mrs Crane ‘undid her bodice, and something under that, and something else underneath that.’ This lack of knowledge when it comes to her grandmother’s clothing is significant as it further suggests the idea of innocence. Fenella is too young to know the name of each garment that her grandmother is wearing. Symbolically Mrs Crane’s name may also be important. A crane is usually used to pick things up and move them. It is possible that Mansfield by giving Fenella’s grandmother the name Crane is also suggesting (and it also appears to be the case) that Mrs Crane is picking Fenella up (from her father’s home in Wellington) and moving her (to Picton).
Mansfield also appears to be using Mrs Crane’s umbrella as a symbol for responsibility. Throughout the story it is Fenella’s responsibility to look after the umbrella. At the start she appears to have difficulty looking after the umbrella (and may even be afraid of the umbrella) but as the story progresses and particularly at the end, it becomes clear to the reader that Fenella has been successful in her task of looking after the umbrella, without having to be reminded continuously by her grandmother. Something that is noticeable when the boat docks at Picton and before Mrs Crane can finish her sentence, Fenella tells her grandmother that she does have the umbrella. It is possible that Mansfield, through using the umbrella as symbolism, is suggesting that now that Fenella’s mother has passed away, Fenella needs to learn (or become) more responsible. No longer does she have her mother to look after her.
It is also possible that Mansfield is using colour and the setting of the story as symbols for change. At the beginning of the story, particularly at the wharf, Mansfield describes the setting as being ‘very dark: the wool sheds, the cattle trucks, the cranes standing up so high, the little squat railway engine, all seemed carved out of solid darkness.’ In many ways this setting mirrors how Fenella, her father and her grandmother may feel (now that Fenella’s mother is dead). Mansfield continues to use dark imagery when Mrs Crane and Fenella are aboard the boat and talking to the stewardess – ‘she (stewardess) turned around and took a long mournful look at grandma’s blackness and at Fenella’s dark coat and skirt, black blouse, and hat with a crepe rose.’
However it is noticeable that Mansfield, when Fenella and Mrs Crane are in the cabin, begins to use brighter colours, Fenella notices ‘the hard square of brown soap’ and ‘the water in the bottle was like a blue kind of jelly.’ Also when Fenella wakes up and is standing on the deck of the boat, Mansfield tells the reader that ‘the cold pale sky was the same colour as the cold pale sea.’ This shift from dark to brighter continues when the boat docks in Picton, the reader discovering that when Mrs Crane sees Mr Penreddy ‘her white waxen cheeks were blue with cold, her chin trembled, and she had to keep wiping her eyes and her little pink nose.’ By associating Fenella and Mrs Crane’s arrival in Picton with brighter imagery (something that is also noticeable when Fenella is stroking the white cat at her grandfather’s home), Mansfield may be suggesting that life will change (and improve) for Fenella. No longer will her life (or her grandmother’s) be as dark or as mournful as the setting on the wharf. If anything Fenella’s life is to begin again.
The verse (by Horace Mann) introduced at the end of the story may also be important. It is possible that Mansfield, by introducing this verse, is suggesting that what has happened in the past (Fenella’s mother’s death) cannot be changed (and is lost forever) and that an individual (Fenella) should look forward to the future and move on from the past. Something that may be possible for Fenella now that she is to begin a new life living with her grandparents. It is also interesting that Mansfield tells the reader (again at the end of the story) that Fenella’s grandfather looked at her ‘so merrily she almost thought he winked at her.’ This line may be significant as by ending the story with a hint of affection, Mansfield may be suggesting that Fenella, despite losing her mother, will be loved by her grandfather (and grandmother).