In the “Doll’s House”, by Katherine Mansfield the idea of discrimination and the importance of equality is expressed throughout her short story. This is done by use of dialog between social classes based in the 1920s. This allowed the author to obtain contrast between both adult and child narrative voices, allowing the reader to experience both opinions based on social class in the colonial era. By allowing the reader to see in to the situation of discrimination and experience the impact, the reader is able to construct a judgement based on what they believe. Mansfield attempts to signify how wealth should not define who we are as a person. She does this through the use of symbolism, using Kezia through two main symbols, the gate and the lamp which both represent social class difference.
In Mansfield’s story, she brings children from isolated backgrounds and children with varieties of circumstances and social backgrounds together into one school. Manson describes the school yard to consist of “all the children in the neighbourhood, the judges little girl, the store-keepers children, the doctors daughter and the milkman’s were all forced together”. The Burnell sisters are very privileged girls who are gifted a beautiful dollhouse to play with. Whereas the Kelvey sisters are represented to be the “poorest of poor”, with a mother for a washer woman and a father who may be in prison. The author brings out the bitter truth about discrimination. As she uses the contrast between both Aunt Beryl, Kezia’s mother and Kezia’s opinions through dialogue. We as the reader experience the difference between the adult and child narrative voices. Aunt Beryl and Kezia’s mother represent upper class women who are find satisfaction in showing their social prejudice, an example when Kezia asks to have the Kelevy’s over. “Mother,” said Kezia, “can’t I ask the Kelveys just once?” “Certainly not, Kezia.”, “But why not?”, “Run away, Kezia, you know quite well why not”. This shows a major attitude division between Kezia and her mother, Kezia doesn’t understand her mothers intentions nor her communities social class system. However Kezia is a symbol of innocence, she is in a position where she holds her own morals and beliefs where her family or society have not yet affected them. The cruel society Kezia is growing up in will most likely sculpt her in to people just like her family. As Kezia grows and expands, her family will play a major role in influencing her as she matures. However instead of positively influencing Kezias maturation, her family will poison her with the concept that cruelty to others defined by their wealth is ok. This idea was portrayed in the short story. “Lil Kelveys going to be a servant when she grows up.”, “O-oh, how awful!” said Isabel Burnell, and she made eyes at Emmie. Emmie swallowed in a very meaning way and nodded to Isabel as she’d seen her mother do on those occasions. “It’s true – it’s true – it’s true,” she said. This quote is an example of parents passing their values on to their children, this quote proves this based on the fact that the children are talking as if they are adults. We as the reader can see a chain being formed as generations pass their corrupt values on to the following generation, making it obviously hard to break. By the author using these contrasts between adult and child, she is able to allow the reader to see two perspectives based on social values and prejudice of the upper class.
Katherine Mansfield also uses symbolism to ensure the reader can understand her perspective on social classes in the colonial era. She uses the gate and the lamp as two main symbols to identify Kezia’s difference from her family. The gate to the Burnell’s house controls who comes in, referring to which social class is accepted to come through the gate. Of course the Kelvey sisters are not welcome to come through the gate, symbolizing there is a boundary between the Kezia Burnell playing with the Kelvey sister’s, therefore suggesting there is boundary between their social classes. When Kezia sits on the gate swinging back and forward, this may symbolize to the reader that Kezia sits on the “boundary” between social classes, she is being influenced to realise it is wrong to be friendly with lower class people however she wants to challenge this. As she swings back and forth she may wonder whether to obey her family, or do what feels right to her. As she opens the gate for the Kelvey sisters to come in, she breaks the boundary of social class.
The lamp is another symbol used by the author to further symbolise Kezia’s difference to her family. The lamp sits in the dolls house, it sticks out to Kezia, she describes it to be perfect. However her family only notice the “big things” in the dollhouse, things that Kezia don’t feel belong there. This already shows a difference between Kezia and her family, the others notice the unnatural looking dolls and how big the dollhouse is suggesting they only look for materialistic, wealthy objects in life. The light from the lamp may symbolise hope, enlightening Kezia to hope for the social boundary to be taken down. Our Else Kelvey also recognises the lamp, but only because Kezia points it out to her giving her the opportunity to believe in hope and light.
Discrimination is a much more recognised problem now, than what it was in the colonial era. However the problem still exists where people only have an understanding of someone based on their wealth or social status. But it is being promoted more regularly to focus on an individual’s personality rather than what they obtain. I would recommend this short story for a year 12 or 13 student as it really challenges discrimination. Although this concept is based in a different era and today it is not as extreme as what it is in this story it still subtly exists in our everyday life. For a year 12/13 student to realise there is more to life than money and social status, they may realise what more is out there in the greater world.