Widowed by Katherine Mansfield
In Widowed by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of love, loss, acceptance, happiness, freedom and simplicity. Taken from her The Collected Stories collection the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of love. Geraldine is very much in love with Jimmie. In many simple ways she admires him to the point that she misses him when he goes out. It is as though their love is deep and silent. With neither having to utter a word to each other. This may be significant as by introducing the story with a sense of love Mansfield inevitably allows for there to be a loss, an accepted loss that comes on Jimmie’s death. Rather than being forlorn Geraldine appears to accept that Jimmie is at least injured and not dead. Though the fact the sheet covers his entire body suggests to the reader that Jimmie has indeed died in a horse-riding accident.
The theme of simplicity is also self-evident. Geraldine likes things to be simple and not over complicated. Just as Jimmie does. He prefers four pieces of toast in the morning rather than the two the cook has toasted for him. The simple smell of Jimmie’s tweed jacket also makes Geraldine happy. It is as though she is living her life slightly vicariously. However it is clear that she has her own things to do as well as looking after Jimmie. If anything Geraldine is surprisingly independent for a women of the time. She is able to keep her home running and at the same time place a focus on her marriage to Jimmie. Who is allowed as much freedom he wants. The reader also suspects that Jimmie allows for Geraldine to have a degree of freedom too. They are after all unlike the majority of people. They are upper class and wealthy. So freedom is not necessarily an issue for them.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which may be important. The four pieces of toast could be symbolism for satisfaction. Just as Geraldine and Jimmie have a satisfactory marriage that is in no danger of breaking up. The symbol of the cat that Geraldine draws could also be significant as the cat is part of Geraldine’s life. She identifies with the independence that a cat may have (over a dog). A cat is allowed to go out as it pleases and return when it desires. Major Hunter is an omen for death. Being a soldier he would have seen death in WWI and some critics may suggest that he is a harbinger for death. Major Hunter’s surname may also have significance. A soldier would hunt for the enemy yet for Major Hunter he has never really gotten over the war. He suffers from post-traumatic stress and as such has bouts of depression due to his involvement in the war. This depression will mirror how Geraldine will feel on discovery that Jimmie is dead.
The fact that the story is set in autumn has some relevancy too. Often in literature autumn and winter are used to place an emphasis on death. By setting the story in autumn Mansfield may be using the setting as foreshadowing to Jimmie’s death. It is also noticeable that Jimmie is the one who controls the relationship and the household. He orders extra toast for example and he allows for himself to be entertained not by Geraldine but by going horse-riding. Though it is still important to remember that Geraldine from the start of the story is happy with the position she finds herself in. She does not wish for her life to be any different which may leave some critics feelings as though Geraldine may be paralysed in the marriage. However this is not the case. She is simply happy to live her life as she does. She is the lady of the house and is content with this. She may never know how much her life will change but she acts calmly when Major Hunter informs her of the accident. It is as though she knows that she has a role to play now that she will become a widow.