The Doll’s House

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In the short stories ‘The Doll’s House’, ‘Her First Ball’ both by Katherine Mansfield and ‘Thinking of Bagheera’ by Owen Marshall, important ideas were developed for the purpose of showing the contrast between naive attitudes of youth and cynicism of age. An important idea developed in ‘The Doll’s House’ was the prejudice of upper class against the lower class. An important idea developed in ‘Her First Ball’ was the bitterness of old age towards the enthusiasm of the young. An important idea developed in ‘Thinking of Bagheera’ was that sometimes you have to be cruel in order to be kind.

These ideas were developed through the use of characters’ actions and dialogues. In ‘Her First Ball’, Katherine Mansfield develops the idea of bitterness of old age towards the enthusiasm of young through the use of dialogue. It is Leila’s first ball. “She tried not to smile too much, not to care. But every single thing was new and exciting” shows the excitement and enthusiasm that Leila holds for the ball. Leila is from the countryside and it’s her first time attending a city ball.

Leila somewhat feels socially out of place as she is not a ‘city girl. ’ This is why “an old man-fat” targets her because she is naive. When the fat old man and Leila are dancing, the fat old man tells her “And you’ll smile like the poor old dears up there, and point to your daughter, and tell the elderly lady next to you how some dreadful man tried to kiss her at the club hall” to make her feel indifferent.

But when Leila finds a new partner she forgets about what the old man said to her and “she wouldn’t even recognise him again. The old fat man’s dialogue to Leila develops the idea of bitterness of old age towards the enthusiasm of young because it signifies that the fat old man is jealous of exuberance of Leila’s youth so he tries to ‘burst’ her ‘bubble’ of happiness and excitement. The use of this dialogue also reinforces author’s purpose to show the contrast between naive attitudes of Leila and cynicism of the old fat man. In ‘Thinking of Bagheera’, Owen Marshall develops the idea that sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind through the use of dialogue and actions. Bagheera is a cat that belongs to boy’s sister.

But the boy takes care of the cat because Bagheera can’t be “dominated” and ‘controlled’ like his sisters’ preference. Bagheera and the boy develop a very close relationship and Bagheera represents the beauty and freedom in the boy’s eyes. When Bagheera gets seriously sick, the boy describes his emotions as “I kept thinking of his eyes in the perpetual darkness beneath the house. Beseeching eyes that waited for me to fulfil the obligation of our friendship. ” This description highlights the pain that the boy is going through because of his deep connection with Bagheera.

So the boy tries to get his father to kill Bagheera in order to free the cat from its pain. The boy’s dialogue “I asked my father to shoot Bagheera…….. but my father had no conception of misery in others” illustrates the lack of compassion in boy’s father. Only practical arguments such as Bagheera might “spread infection” or “cause a smell in the guest rooms” get his father to take action which implies that Bagheera’s death is insignificant to his father, “ ‘I wouldn’t think anyone heard the shot at all’, said my father with satisfaction. The boy’s dialogue “but I remembered Bagheera’s release across the lawn, and though it was all worthwhile” suggests that for boy, the cat’s death was actually a celebration of the cat’s life. The boy’s actions especially his decision to free Bagheera from its slow and painful death develops Marshall’s idea that sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind because it was boy’s kindness for Bagheera that led him to make a cruel decision to free the cat of its suffering. The boy’s actions emphasise that he is kind and caring.

The description of his father implies his father’s lack of empathy and compassion for others. The use of dialogue and actions reinforces Owen Marshall’s purpose to show the contrast between the naive attitudes of the boy and cynicism of his father. In ‘The doll’s House’, Katherine Mansfield develops the idea of prejudice of upper class against the lower class through the use of dialogue and actions. The doll’s house is a symbol of prejudice. The house also becomes a status symbol for Isabel in her school. All the girls of her class nearly fought to put their arms round her, to walk with her, to beam flatteringly, to be her special friend” just so they could see the doll’s house.

The description of the doll’s house “all the rooms were papered. There were pictures on the wall, painted on the paper, with gold frames complete” is a representation of Burnells’ house. So it classifies them as the ‘haves’ of this world. Isabel got to decide who could come to see the doll’s house. But when Kezia asked her mother, “can’t I ask the Kelveys just once? ” her mother replies “you know quite well why not. In spite of what her mother had told her, Kezia still brings in Lil Kelvey and Our Else so they could see the doll’s house. As soon as she opens the doll’s house “how dare you ask the little Kelveys into the courtyard? ” says Aunt Beryl’s “cold, furious voice. ” Aunt Beryl “shooed” the little Kelveys away “as if they were chickens. ” Mrs Burnell’s dialogue and Aunt Beryl’s actions shows the depth of social class prejudice in 19th century New Zealand. Kezia is young and naive so she accepts the Kelveys as individuals and she doesn’t understand class or social distinctions.

However, Aunt Beryl’s actions highlight that she is a spiteful adult who imposes prejudice on the ‘unfortunates’ or ‘have-nots’ of society and judges the Kelveys on the basis of their social class. The juxtaposition between Kezia and Aunt Beryl’s actions reinforces Mansfield’s purpose because it shows the contrast between naive attitudes of Kezia and the cynicism of her Aunt Beryl. In both the short stories, Mansfield and Marshall develop the themes for the particular purpose of showing the contrast the naive attitudes of youth and cynicism of old age.

In ‘The Doll’s House’ and ‘Thinking of Bagheera’ the elders, Aunt Beryl and the boy’s dad lack emotions. Boy’s dad has lack of compassion for the suffering cat and lack of understanding of the boy’s decision to kill the cat. Similarly, Aunt Beryl imposes prejudice and judges others on the basis of their social status. But it was the boy and Kezia’s naive attitude that makes them more ‘mature’ than adults. Kezia accepts others as individuals not on the basis of prejudice. Likewise, the boy makes a very mature decision of getting his father to kill Bagheera to free Bagheera of its suffering.

In both short stories, the adults were portrayed as emotionless while the young had empathy and consideration for others. Authors’ particular purpose influenced me to change my opinion because the authors showed me that it doesn’t require ‘adults’ maturity’ but the youth’s naivety to make right decisions. Although the short stories “Her First Ball’, ‘The Doll’s House’ and ‘Thinking of Bagheera’ deal with different ideas, those ideas were developed to emphasise the same purpose. Katherine Mansfield and Owen Marshall effectively used protagonists’ actions and dialogues to show the contrast between naive attitudes of youth and cynicism of age.

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