The Feminist Struggle in Katherine Mansfield’s Short Stories

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Katherine Mansfield belongs to a group of female authors that have used their financial resources and social standing to critique the patriarchal status quo. Like Virginia Woolf, Mansfield was socioeconomically privileged enough to write influential texts that have been deemed as ‘proto-feminist’ before the initial feminist movements. The progressive era in which Mansfield writes proves to be especially problematic because, “[w]hile the Modernist tradition typically undermined middle-class values, women … did not have the recognized rights necessary to fully embrace the liberation from the[se] values” (Martin 69). Her short stories emphasized particular facets of female oppression, ranging from gendered social inequality to economic classism, and it is apparent that “[p]oor or rich, single or married, Mansfield’s women characters are all victims of their society” (Aihong 101). Mansfield’s short stories, “The Garden Party” and “Miss Brill”, represent the feminist struggle to identify traditional patriarchy as an inherent caste system in modernity. This notion is exemplified through the social bonds women create, the naïve innocence associated with the upper classes, and the purposeful dehumanization of women through oppressive patriarchal methods. By examining the female characters in “The Garden Party” and “Miss Brill”, it is evident that their relationships with other characters and themselves notify the reader of their encultured classist preconceptions, which is beneficial to analyze before discussing the sources of oppression.

Social and internal dialogue is representative of the enculturation process that Laura and Miss Brill have been exposed to. Both of Mansfield’s short stories represent a binary: Laura’s realizations of...

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Moran, Patricia. “Unholy Meanings: Maternity, Creativity, and Orality in Katherine Mansfield.” Feminist Studies 17.1 (1991): 105-125. Print.

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