The Doll's House by Katherine Mansfield: SummaryThe Doll's House is a beautiful short story written by Katherine Mansfield. Mansfield is the best artist in portraying the trivial activities of men. In this story she reveals the cruelty of grownup people in the society.
She shows the innocence of small children and the cruelty of the society that draws a line between the rich and the poor, higher and lower status of people.
There are five child characters in this story. They are the Burnell daughters and the Kelvey daughters. Besides this, there are grown ups like the Aunt Beryl, Mrs. Kelvey, the school teacher and so on.
This story reveals that small children are innocent but they are poisoned by the grown ups and become cruel very slowly. Once Mrs. Hay had sent the Burnell children a doll's house. It was more beautiful than a real house. It had bed rooms, living rooms, kitchen, chimneys, bedclothes, doll family and all painted, decorated and excellent ones. It was unique and large. It was newly painted so it was kept outside in the courtyard for a few days until the smell of the paint was disappeared. Above all there was a lamp that Kezia thought to be a real one.
The Burnell children were overjoyed to find the excellent doll's house. The next day they reached school with great excitement. They were burning to tell about the wonderful doll's house. Burnell's eldest daughter Isabela told her friends about it during the lunch hour at the school. All the children came together. Among them there were Emmie Cole, Lena Logan and the rest. But two of the girls did not come near them. They were downtrodden, lower class children or the daughters of Mrs. Kelvey. Mr. Kelvin was a jailbird. Mrs. Kelvey used to walk from door to door, asked for bits of cloth and gave them to her daughters. Besides, the Burnell's mother had forbidden their daughters to speak with the Kelveys. All the school children, two at a time came to the Burnell's house to see the doll's house. Only Else Kelvey and Lil Kelvey were left uninvited. Nobody spoke with them.
One day, Kezia, the youngest daughter of the Burnells asked her mother to call the Kelveys her home, but her mother abused her and she was silenced. The Kelveys were shunned by all, hated by all. Only the two sisters understood each other.
Then one day Kezia saw those two girls coming towards her gate. She invited them to go and see the doll's house. With much hesitation they went into the courtyard and saw the wonderful house. Else saw the little lamp. At this very moment Aunt Beryl's harsh voiced was heard. She shooed them off as if they were chicken. Afraid of the situation, they squeezed through the gate and ran away. Far off they sat on a drainpipe and the younger sister expressed her pleasure. In this way the poor children were hated by all. Innocent child like Kezia saw no difference between one and another but the elder people create difference in society.
Mansfield aspired to write the perfect short story and her writing was influenced by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov. Like jewels, her stories exhibit many facets and are complex and luminous. She is skillful in deft character portrayal, creating powerful impressions with metaphor, and manipulating reader responses with a few apt words. Her description of Else Kelvey is an example. By frequently calling the girl “Our Else,” she enlists the reader’s sympathies: “She was a tiny wishbone of a child, with cropped hair and enormous solemn eyes—a little white owl.” In her white “nightgown” of a dress, Else is a spectral image, perhaps a sad angel. She seems to be not quite of this world, and nobody has ever seen her smile. It is primarily through Else that readers experience the cruelty of the other children and adults.
Mansfield uses the doll’s house itself as a metaphor for the world of the rich upper class and creates a symbolic language surrounding it. The dollhouse opens by swinging its entire front back to reveal a cross section: “Perhaps it is the way God opens houses at dead of night when He is taking a quiet turn with an angel.” It is through Else’s eyes that the reader sees into this world that normally would remain brutally closed to a poor child. The little amber lamp that Kezia loves comes to represent what is real, or of real value, in an otherwise desolate emotional world. It is apparently the description of the lamp that Else overhears that emboldens her to ask Lil to go see the dollhouse against Lil’s better judgment.
The final view of the Kelveys after seeing the dollhouse, resting together on their way home, picks up on the spiritual overtone in the story. Beryl’s cruelty is forgotten. The “little lamp” that Else has seen, a symbol for Kezia’s kindness and human warmth that defies the inhumane tyranny of class distinction, is a light that shines in the darkness of the life of this child. Something “real” is redeemed as Else smiles her “rare smile” at the end of the story.