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Katherine Mansfield: A Brief Introduction

Katherine Mansfield was a New Zealand writer journalist and essayist. She is considered the most influential writer of the modernist movement. Many of her works are published in different languages across the world (Poetry Foundation). This essay will discuss Mansfield writing concerning her three stories “Bliss”, “The Canary” and “The Fly”. It is agreeable that Mansfield’s stories are simple and being a modernist writer, she uses symbolism beautifully in all her stories.

Katherine Mansfield wrote stories that explored sexuality, anxiety and existentialism. She wrote many poems and short stories related to this theme. Mansfield’s Bliss is one of her famous and great stories from her first published short stories (Kaplan). This story was published in 1918, it is based on the animalistic nature of sexual desire and homoerotic longing. The story is narrated in the third person and has a limited point of view. In this story, all events are filtered through the character of Bertha and her way of perceiving the world (British Library). The narration was studded with exclamations, questions and interjections that were inclined on Bertha’s viewing of the world. In this story, Mansfield has used many symbols that command her story. For example- The pear tree, this tree symbolizes the attraction of Bertha to Pearl Fulton. Botanically the pear tree is bisexual by nature, Bertha sees the tree as her symbol of life. Here she has beautifully presented the features of modernist writing such as symbolism and bisexuality. Bertha thinks of herself as the “wild open blossom” (Mansfield and Fulton) like the tree representing her possibility of change; however, she has to cross the social convention to break this. Another symbol is the Moonlight which represents illusion and the transformation in the story. She believes after looking at the moon rising and the pear tree that she can change her life and lead it in a fulfilling way (the hidden desires for Pearl Fulton). The moon also symbolizes the feminine principle in the world (Duffy). The moon is connected with Pearl as the line “thinking the light of the moon, silver as Miss Fulton.” (Mansfield and Fulton) Suggests that when Bertha gets an imagination of the pear tree touching moon it becomes clear that Bertha adores Pearl (Mansfield and Fulton, Bliss).

The second short story is The Canary written by Katherine Mansfield; it was published in 1923. This story is narrated in the first person by a woman who is alone and her pet Canary has died in the past. Through this story, Mansfield has presented the themes of loneliness, letting go, hope, love and sadness. In this story, the lonely woman is attached so much to her pet canary that she cannot let him go despite his passing a long time ago (Kaya). The woman would be cheered up by listening to the singing of Canary, although she feels lonely every day yet she does not replace her pet with another pet, she has accepted her fate that she would be alone forever. Mansfield through this claimed that loneliness and sadness are symbols of life and is a part of human life. People always feel sad and lonely without knowing the reason. The lonely woman in the story, however, is clever enough to realise that an individual cannot be always happy eventually the sadness will return and people will be lonely again. It is seen that the theme of love is also explored in the story, the lonely woman not only loved her pet but also had the capacity to love other things such as the evening star. This symbolises that she has the ability to enjoy the company of other people. The author has mentioned the cage many times in the story, it is possible that the cage is the symbol of feeling trapped or caged. The narrator is caged by her surrounding, and though she has the capacity to feel she chooses to feel sadness and chooses to be trapped by loneliness (Kimber) (Mansfiled).

The fly is a short story published by Mansfield in 1992, the main idea of this story is based on Death, accepting the truth and reluctance. The author has also shown the aftereffect of World War 1. This story has symbolized the fly as the helpless individual who is not able to escape from their misery. The fly indicates that a man tries hard to escape his death but sometimes he is not given a chance to escape. Like the fly, a man also tries to escape from his death but fate captures him and he dies. No one is above death and is powerless in front of death. This symbol also relates to the author’s death as the author herself died of tuberculosis. At that time many people died of T.B but after some time men found an escape and discovered a cure to escape from the death, however, just like another drop that the boss poured on the fly other diseases like AIDS and HIV acted like the drop and caused many deaths (Kaplan). The writer in the line “he wanted, he intended, he arranged to weep but no tears came out”. This suggests that time conquers grief. The boss wanted to feel the same pain however he is unable to weep as it has been six years since he lost his son. Her story reflects the major themes of modern writing such as the use of symbolism especially related to diversity in genders and the use of metaphors and images such as disappointment, death and expectations (Mansfield).

This essay discussed the writing style of the essayist, journalist and writer Katherine Mansfield. She has used themes of anxiety, existentialism and disappointment. In her story “Bliss” she has used the modern theme of bisexuality, which most the people at that time considered taboo, in her story “The fly” she has presented the theme of disappointment and death and has also shown the cruelty of the World War 1. In the story “The canary” she has presented the theme of loneliness and sadness. In conclusion, these stories are proofs that Mansfield takes the reader to the most poignant and vulnerable aspect of human beings and she has an expert command of symbolism in her stories.

References

British Library. Katherine Mansfield. 21 April 2022. https://www.bl.uk/people/katherine-mansfield. 21 April 2022.

Duffy, Enda, ed. Katherine Mansfield and Bliss and Other Stories. Edinburgh University Press, 2020.

Kaplan, S. J. Katherine Mansfield and the origins of modernist fiction. Newyork: Cornell University Press, 2019.

Kaya, ?ebnem. ""Katherine Mansfield's THE CANARY as a Pointer to Deep Ecology."." The Explicator 73.2 (2015): 97-100.

Kimber, Gerri. The Incorporation of Symbolism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Mansfield, Katherine and Maisie Fulton. Bliss. Hear-a-book, 2014.

Mansfield, Katherine. "The fly." 2021. https://debracollege.dspaces.org/bitstream/123456789/253/1/eic_XII.1.39.pdf. 21 April 2022.

Mansfiled, Katherine. "The Canary." 1992. https://www.katherinemansfieldsociety.org/archive/www.katherinemansfieldsociety.org/assets/KM-Stories/THE-CANARY.pdf. April 22 2022.

Poetry Foundation. Katherine Mansfield. 21 April 2022. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/katherine-mansfield. 21 April 2022.

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