The Wrong House by Katherine Mansfield
In The Wrong House by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of fear, mortality, panic, necessity and gratitude. 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 fear. Mrs Bean opens up her blinds only to see the undertakers preparing to take a body. This frightens Mrs Bean However more importantly Mrs Bean knows her time has yet to come. She may be an old woman but she still has a lot to do (knitting for the needy). Mrs Bean’s sense of panic is heightened by the fact that Dollicas the maid is out getting meat. If she had been at home Mrs Bean would not have encountered the undertaker as Dollicas would have opened the door and advised him of his mistake.
It is also clear to the reader that Mrs Bean is a widow though whether she has children is difficult to say. If she has they are infrequent visitors to the home. Which may be why mortality frightens Mrs Bean. She feels as though she has plenty to give (to the local charities) and that her time is not up yet. True she has a maid but she may well afford to have a maid and it may not be out of necessity. Mrs Bean is also good-natured, knitting for charity. She could spend her days selfishly but decides against it. If anything Mrs Bean has a good, though fragile heart. It is also possible that since Mrs Bean’s husband died she has been at a loose end hence her knitting. Mrs Bean also seems to replace her reliance onto Dollicas. She does after all rely on Dollicas. To cook her dinner and perhaps do other things.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. Mrs Bean knits the same items. She is repetitive which may suggest she is repetitive in life. Never going out and relying on Dollicas. Mrs Bean may also look at the undertakers as a bad omen, reflecting the end of her own life. Dollicas also brings a sense of normality to the house that may have long been missing since Mr Bean’s death. However Mrs Bean doesn’t appear to have gotten over her husband’s death with her repetitive daily tasks. The reader is left feeling that if it was not for Dollicas routine Mrs Bean may not be long for the world. Which may leave some critics to suggest that the undertaker is acting as foreshadowing till Mrs Bean’s death. The fact that Mrs Bean looks out her blinds at the undertaker may also highlight further the fear she feels. A fear that some readers might suggest is unreasonable. Though it might be important to remember that Mr Bean’s death may still be fresh in Mrs Bean’s mind. She fears she will be next.
The end of the story is interesting as Dollicas brings a sense of normality when she returns home. She is unaware of what has happened and Mrs Bean doesn’t advise her. Possibility out of embarrassment. Mrs Bean doesn’t want Dollicas to know that she was afraid as it would show a sign of weakness and Mrs Bean may feel as though with old age comes; weakness but not to show others; as they will only judge you or change your life irrevocably. Though it is not in Dollicas nature she could tell a doctor that Mrs Bean should not be left along. The result being that Mrs Bean might end up in a home. Where her life would change dramatically and she would lose the little bit of freedom that she has. Sad as it sounds Mrs Bean is better off saying as little as possible and continuing her life to the best of her ability. Kitting for charity and hope that no one notices when she takes a turn. As she did when she saw the undertaker.