Coming of age is a prominent theme in ‘Her First Ball’ by Katherine Mansfield. It is expressed in the plot, wherein an adolescent girl attends her first ball and is fascinated and thrilled by it all. Her hopes are then let down by an older gentleman who cruelly reminds her that she will soon be an old lady with no happiness and excitement left in her life. Mansfield depicts the theme of growing up in title, language, literary devices and characterization.
The title, ‘Her First Ball’, clearly states the subject of the story while maintaining the implications of growth and ageing. The use of the pronoun, ‘her’, instead of the name, Leila, shows how ubiquitous this process- how every woman has had a first ball that is a milestone in their journey to adulthood. This reiterates the notion that Leila, like everyone else will grow up and will no longer be the ecstatic young girl in awe of everything, whether it be for better or worse. The word ‘first’ implies youth and the change that comes with ageing. It suggests many more balls and experiences to come and marks this incident as a milestone in her life.
Another technique Mansfield uses to express the theme of growing up in the story is the language. The language in ‘Her First Ball’ is extremely descriptive and ornate. She uses irony in ‘I can’t see a single invisible hairpin!’. This adds to the humor of the story. This also suggests the idiocy and stupidity of the youth, lost in the thrilling chaos of the ball. Mansfield also uses elaborate phrases to capture the magnificence of the ball and how Leila feels about it such as the alliterative phrase, ‘gleaming golden floor’. The words ‘gleaming’ and ‘golden’ both represent an epitome of beauty and splendor that is contrasted with descriptions from Leila’s school. The phrase ‘ dusty smelling hall- with calico texts on the wall’ provides a juxtaposition between Leila’s past and her present to show beyond doubt the changes in her life as she ages.