You Should Have Seen the Mess by Muriel Spark
In You Should Have Seen the Mess by Muriel Spark we have the theme of obsession, appearance, isolation, modernity, independence, change and acceptance. Taken from her The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a young seventeen year old girl called Lorna and after reading the story the reader realises that Spark may be exploring the theme of obsession. Lorna is very particular when it comes to her environment particularly if the environment is not clean or at least not as clean as Lorna thinks it should be. She leaves her first two jobs because of the cleanliness or lack of cleanliness in both jobs. Only settling in Low’s after she considers it to be more modern. Something which is important to Lorna. Throughout the story Lorna makes comparisons between what she considers to be old-fashioned and what she thinks is more suitable and modern. It is as though Lorna lives her life judging her environment negatively should it not meet her strict criteria. She continually compares her own home to other people’s home and as such she sees many failings in other people’s environments. The Darby’s being an example. It is also interesting that Lorna uses her mother and father as a bench mark on how a person should be treated as she is not allowing herself to fully explore the diversity of life. Again the Darby’s being an example.
In reality Lorna appears to have put herself and her family on a pedestal and judges people negatively should they fall short of the standards that Lorna and her family have set for themselves. Appearance seems to be everything to Lorna regardless of the character of an individual. She forgoes an engagement with the chemist’s assistant because he is unable to provide Lorna with the ‘little extras’ that she would like to have. This may be significant as Spark could be suggesting that Lorna is a social-climber and is driven by her desire to improve her circumstances. However the possibility of Lorna actually improving her situation are limited due to her critical appraisal of others. It is also possible that Lorna due to her point of view is only going to isolate herself from others. The only people who really support Lorna throughout the story are her parents. Lorna does not stay long enough in one place (due to her obsession with cleanliness) to form a meaningful relationship with others.
Willy’s character is also interesting as he has the financial backing to elevate Lorna to the position that she would like to be in. However due to his unkempt manner Lorna does not consider him to be a suitable prospect for marriage. Though Willy continually flatters Lorna she cannot see past the fact that Willy’s living arrangements have a lot to be desired. How strongly Lorna feels about Willy and his living arrangements is noticeable by the fact that Lorna considers a relationship with Willy to be a step backwards in her life. Despite the fact that Willy can provide Lorna with what she is looking for. Again there is a sense that Lorna due to her obsession with cleanliness is isolating herself from others. If anything it is unlikely that any suitor will satisfy Lorna as she is sure to find some type of fault with them. Just as she did with the chemist’s assistant and Willy. Which may suggest to some readers that Lorna lacks the ability to find common ground with another individual. Such is her criticism of how people live their lives.
It may also be a case that Lorna is irrational when it comes to other people’s cleanliness. Not only does she judge people by the cleanliness of their environment and their appearance but she also seems unable to change her attitude. It is as though Lorna is paralysed by her obsession with cleanliness. The fact that her parents act as enablers is also unhelpful to Lorna. If anything Lorna’s parents may be as obsessive about cleanliness and modernity as Lorna is. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Lorna’s father is constantly making changes to the house and the Health Officer considers that one could eat their dinner off Lorna’s mother’s floor. The fact that Lorna uses her parents’ home as a marker when it comes to considering other people’s lives and their environment may also suggest that Lorna is not necessarily independent. Such is the influence of her parents on Lorna’s thinking. Without knowing it Lorna’s parents rather than being supportive or Lorna are ensuring that she lives a closeted and protected life. One in which anybody who might be different to Lorna is shunned. Something which would further suggest that Lorna through her thinking and actions is only isolating herself from others. For a young seventeen year old girl Lorna should be a little more open minded and accept that others may not necessarily live their lives to the standards that Lorna sets for herself.