Friday, September 22, 2017

A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield Analysis

The short story "A Cup of Tea" was written by a prominent New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield. Before reading I listened to the audio of the story from Youtube (the link is posted in the ending of this review). The tone of voice in the recording was quite ironical, even flippant, obviously, it was made for purpose because of the similarity of literary style of the story. That was a right method indeed, how else can we read this passage: "Rosemary Fell was not exactly beautiful. No, you couldn't have called her beautiful. Pretty? Well, if you took her to pieces... But why be so cruel as to take anyone to pieces?".

The story tells us about one episode in the life of a very rich woman Rosemary Fell. She was used to spending money for any whims of hers. Katherine Mansfield described the scene how the shopkeeper flattered her taste of beauty: "You see, madam," he would explain in his low respectful tones, "I love my things. I would rather not part with them than sell them to someone who does not appreciate them, who has not that fine feeling which is so rare...". The seller asked for the thing (animated composition in the box) at a very high price and Rosemary espoused that the price didn’t shock her, she was able to buy everything that she wanted. Let's look at the text:

"Charming!" Rosemary admired the flowers. But what was the price? For a moment the shopman did not seem to hear. Then a murmur reached her. "Twenty-eight guineas, madam." "Twenty-eight guineas." Rosemary gave no sign. She laid the little box down; she buttoned her gloves again. Twenty-eight guineas. Even if one is rich...

She looked vague. She stared at a plump tea-kettle like a plump hen above the shopman's head, and her voice was dreamy as she answered: "Well, keep it for me - will you? I'll..."

This was a long introduction which was necessary for understanding the moral of the story. The key moment of the story occurred when Rosemary went out of the shop and a young girl asked her some money for a cup of tea. In response Rosemary acted unpredictably, she invited the girl to her home for a cup of tea.

While I was reading this part of Katherine Mansfield's story, another story appeared in my mind. It is a satirical story written by one of the most well-known and recognizable Russian writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky. "A Nasty Story". The story told how one very high-level person, the general, decided to visit the wedding of one of his subordinate and how bad it turned: the tension of awareness having so high boss ruined the celebration. The true intention of the participating in the wedding for the boss was probably the attempt to increase his self-appraisal. I think that Rosemary had the same motivation.

After Rosemary brought the girl to her house, Philip, the husband of Rosemary, came home. He was very surprised, even shocked by the fact of seeing such an unusual visitor. Rosemary insisted that it is not her whim, that she would care about the future of that stranger - the young girl, who introduced herself as Ms.Smith. But the attitude of Rosemary in terms of Ms. Smith was changed dramatically when Philip said that Ms. Smith is pretty.

Rosemary went to her writing-room. "She opened a drawer and took out five-pound notes, looked at them, put two back, and holding the three squeezed in her hand, she went back to her bedroom."After Rosemary removed the threat of having a pretty girl in her house giving three-pound notes and returned back to Philip, she asked: "Do you like me?". He answered, "I like you awfully". "Then Rosemary said dreamily: "I saw a fascinating little box today. It cost twenty-eight guineas. May I have it?" Philip jumped her on his knee. "You may, little wasteful one," said he. But that was not really what Rosemary wanted to say. "Philip," she whispered, and she pressed his head against her bosom, "am I pretty?".

The last question in the story raised doubts about self-confidence of Rosemary. She depended on the money of her husband she wasn't sure about her attractiveness. The last question reminded the humorous episode mentioned in the beginning of the story: "Rosemary Fell was not exactly beautiful. .. Pretty? Well, if you took her to pieces...". One conclusion may be that the theme of insecurity, even for so extremely rich person, was highlighted in the story.

The story may give a lot of subjects for discussing: about relationships in society, about the definition of good and bad, about begging and so on. It is why this story is used as a class material for literary classes and why the name of the author is well known. Katherine Mansfield drew a picture of life in society and made it very well.

A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield links:

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