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Katherine Mansfield's Bliss

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A literary symbol can be anything in a story's setting, plot, or characterization that suggests an abstract meaning to the reader in addition to its literal significance. Consider the pear tree in bloom outside the window in Katherine Mansfield's "Bliss." Literally full of fragile pear blossoms, the tree is an abstract symbol of the awakening sexuality of the young wife in the story, suggesting her innocence and purity. That her husband's mistress also responds to the beauty of the pear tree deepens the irony of Mansfield's story. The total context of a story often suggests a symbolic as well as literal reading of the narrative...you may be struck by the way some elements of the story suggest deeper meaning by eliciting your emotional responses. Katherine Mansfield thoughtfully named her story Bliss, to ask the question, "What is bliss?" Webster's dictionary defines bliss as, "complete happiness". In Bliss, the main character, Bertha, feels she is blissful. She has the perfect family, the perfect life, and a party that night. However, that perfect life is a fa�ade, which the reader along with Bertha at times learns. After arranging the fruit for the evening party, Bertha like a child at Christmas runs upstairs to the nursery to see her baby, Little B. The scene goes, "she looked up when see saw her mother and began to jump." (Mansfield 2) The Nanny quickly takes control of the baby and in facial expressions showing her displeasure of being interrupted. When the Nanny tells of the dog's ear that B touched, she does not voice her objections to the Nanny's judgment of letting B touch the dog's ear. ...read more.


Harry's life is not domestic. He says to dinner guest: 'My dear Mrs Knight, don"t ask me about my baby. I never see her. I shan't feel the slightest interest in her until she has a lover'. He is another male philistine, sensitive only to his physical needs and unresponsive to hose of his wife and child. Bertha says very little at her dinner party, preferring to absorb the beauty of it and so to be receptive to the words and action of her guests; Harry is noisy abd vulgar, 'doing things at high pressure', and spoiling moods with gratuitous remarks about livers, flatulence, and women running fat. Earlier that evening, Bertha thought she was very lucky in her marriage: 'really - really - she had everything. She was young. Harry and she were as much in love as ever, and they got on together splendidly and were really god pals'. During the party Bertha feels sexual desire for the first time: "Oh, she'd loved him [...] leading up to?" But when Bertha feels full of happiness is about to be hers and real union achieved, Harry reveals he is Pearl Fulton's lover; he arranges an assignation for tomorrow in an overtly sensual way 'Harry's nostrils ... Yes" Bertha misunderstood everything. Any closeness was an illusion. Isolation in absolute. Bertha asks at the end, 'Oh, what is going to happen now?". There is no answer , but probably life will continue for her as before, except she will have the memory of blss to comfort her, as is implied in the last sentence of the story 'but the pear tree was lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still'. ...read more.


Her sexual arousal and energy is "shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle". One critic states: The tree does not stand for either for Harry's sexuality or for a pure, spiritual relationship with a woman. The flowering pear tree is a composite symbol representing in its tallness Bertha's homosexual aspirations and in its full rich blossoms, her desire to be sexually used (Anderson 400) Anderson is saying that Bertha desires to be sexually active but is confused with what she feels and is supposed to do. After sharing an intimate moment at the pear tree with Miss Fulton, Bertha describes the moment as "very rarely [occurring] between women...never between men" (947). She feels as if though intimacy can only be shared between women, and longs for a "sign" of reciprocation of feelings. Yet she is confused to what she "meant by that....and what would happen after that" (947) further emphasizing the suppression of deeper unacknowledged desires. The realization of her husband's affair shatters Bertha's illusion of what her life is. She thought "she had everything" according to what society deems important, so her homosexual desires were labeled "absurd" and unacknowledged. This proves disastrous to Bertha because it blinds her from the truth that she has superficial "trendy" friends, a distanced child and a cheating husband. Like the pear tree that "was as lovely as ever and as full o flower and as still" (949), Bertha ends the story as sexually ready and confused. Instead of exploring her sexuality against the norms of society, Bertha might have chosen something more interesting than "Tomato Soup" and ended up in a life that was not "so dreadfully eternal" ...read more.

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