Men and Women

Like Austen, Mansfield only ever wrote about what she understood. "I hate the sort of license that English people give themselves - to spread over and flop and roll about," she wrote in 1913, "I feel as fastidious as though I wrote with acid." Mansfield was at her best when writing about women in her own class such as "Miss Brill" and the "Daughters of the Late Colonel", but when she tries to enter a working woman's mind - as in "Life of Ma Parker" - she is less successful.

Men and women are explored in terms of barrier and enclosure. Mansfield explores gender as a social construction and sets out to dismantle it and show how and where it was formed. Is the concept of being a woman a language distinction or one created at childhood? Narrated largely by a first-person female, each story becomes the interior construction of each individual woman, the inner freedom floating in the finite structure of the flesh and how it is different from the way it is perceived. In "The Garden Party", for Laura Sheridan, "the kisses, voices, tinkling spoons, laughter, the smell of crushed grass were somehow inside her."

Through cumulative imagery, men and women are symbolised by the moon and sun, respectively, as indeed they are literally in the story "Sun and Moon" about a brother and sister called Sun and Moon. Time is measured by the moon - its linear movement means that it is constantly either waxing or waning. This analogy is suggested through Mansfield's fiction as in "Prelude", where Linda "never held out her arms to the moon as young girls are supposed to do." The moon follows a pre-ordained path in the way that woman has a preconceived role by society. The sun traditionally symbolises a positive life force but for Mansfield, it is a destructive. And it represents man; it is "oppressive" in "At the Bay", "beating down fiercely".

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