The Metamorphosis of Bertha in Katherine Mansfield’s Bliss
Katherine Mansfield’s “Bliss” is quite an interesting story full of underlying meanings and themes. Upon a first reading, it seems to be a simple story of a woman who feels uncontainable bliss one day, only to have it end when she discovers her husband is having an affair. Although this is a correct interpretation, after a second reading, much more is apparent. “Bliss” is a story of the revelation of a vibrant young woman, of criticism of society, and of sexual revolution.
In order to fully comprehend the work, we see that significance comes from small details. A tree is the major symbol in this piece, and the details assist in understanding why the pear tree is so important. The method of seeing details as they occur allows readers to relate new details to those in the past. A whole and complete picture can be obtained this way with the details clearly laid out chronologically.
The story opens by presenting the audience with Bertha Young, a thirty-year old woman who feels as if she is a child again as she “wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at--nothing—at nothing, simply (143).” As she moves down the street, a feeling of absolute bliss overcomes her. This is where the reader begins to believe that he/she will receive an account of this woman’s wonderful day and of something fabulous that happened to her. Quite the contrary is true, however.
Bertha walks into her home, and the first negative images of the story are felt. Her dining room is described as “dusky” and “quite chilly (143).”...
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...e fulfilled. Bertha is a woman who has no desire, and Mansfield feels sympathy for her. Bertha is, however, evolving into a feeling, sexual person as she discovers her want to be with her husband physically.
The pear tree is the dominant symbol of this story. Although it shows Bertha’s sexuality, it also shows her resilience. She is able to weather storms and still be beautiful, as is the tree. At the end of the story, the tree is cast in the light of the moon. Since it has already been discussed that the moon symbolizes truth, the moon showing on the pear tree that is still healthy, Bertha will be able to move on and survive. The tree shows that life will go on, as will Bertha, even though she has taken this devastating blow.
Mansfield, Katherine. The Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1937.
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