Violet by Katherine Mansfield
In Violet by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of escape, depression, embarrassment, secrecy, trust, fear, uncertainty, connection, guilt and shame. Taken from her Something Childish and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed young woman and after reading the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of escape. The narrator is depressed, though Mansfield suggests she is suffering with her nerves. She finds herself in a position whereby the outside world is too much for her and she only finds solace in her dreams. Where fantasy can become reality and she is happy. The narrator’s initial meeting with Violet is also significant as she is glad to see a friend. Though Violet is somewhat suspicious that she should meet the narrator. A suspicion aroused by embarrassment. As Violet is also suffering with depression. It is possible that the secrecy at the beginning of Violet and the narrator’s meeting is driven by not only embarrassment but shame too. Violet feels ashamed about her actions with Arthur and as such has made the trip to France.
Violet can’t trust Arthur after he kisses her because he is engaged to another girl. This may be important as Violet may feel as though she has broken a social taboo and as such she journeys to Paris. When the reality is that she has done nothing wrong and is an innocent victim of Arthur’s impropriety. However Mansfield may be suggesting that at the time the story was written it was women who were scorned for their actions (of kissing Arthur) and who paid a price for what they have done. Regardless of the fact that it was not Violet’s fault. The blame lies entirely with Arthur who waited till after he kissed Violet to inform her that he was engaged. One can be assured that Arthur is not attending a Pension like Violet and he no longer considers the matter at all. If anything Arthur is an opportunist. A role that women were not allowed to play at the time.
There may be some symbolism in the story that is important. Katherine Tynan comes to the narrator in a dream. She is logical and friendly. Two traits that the narrator herself is badly in need of from others in order to lift her spirits. It is for this reason that the narrator may be so happy to bump into Violet. The servant girl who is working at the railings could be Mansfield’s attempt to highlight to the narrator that the world keeps on turning and not everything is as bad as once thought. The same can be said for the elderly gentleman who is looking out his window on the street. He too may symbolically represent a sense of normality for the narrator. The old woman in the narrator’s dream is painted in an unflattering light. Possibly to highlight the narrator’s fear. A fear that Katherine Tynan doesn’t have. If anything the narrator may not only be depressed but she may be feeling uncertain about herself. The fact that both the narrator and Violet arm link one another as they are walking towards the fountain may suggest that Violet feels connected to the narrator. She has found a friend when she needs one.
The end of the story is interesting as the narrator (like the reader) does not really think that Violet has done anything wrong. However because of acceptable social standards of the time Violet can’t be persuaded that she has done nothing wrong. The fact that both women are going to a Pension is also important as the ‘cure’ they seek will not be found. In modern terms one would see a psychiatrist or psychologist rather than changing their dietary intake. Both women are suffering mentally. The narrator with her nerves (depression from her train of thought) and Violet is going through nothing more than a bout of guilt. Though the guilt is strong enough for Violet to feel shame. Which is an emotion that can distort a person’s thinking. Rather than worry about events that have passed Violet needs to pick herself up and continue to socialise. Again she has done nothing wrong and is allowing for societal norms to affect her. Whereas the narrator’s problems appear to be more deeply rooted. Though she does have moments when she can see clearly and is not affected by her nerves.