Discuss the idea of innocence and experience in Mansfield’s work.
The ideas of innocence and experience are frequent themes that come up
in Mansfield’s stories. These ideas often come across in themes such
as loss of sexual innocence – ‘The Little Governess’; loss of
innocence through awareness of mortality and death – ‘The Garden
Party’, ‘Her First Ball’. Themes of aging and gaining of experience
as time passes are also suggested. The woman in ‘The Woman at the
Store’, we can that she has already lost her innocence, whereas in the
other stories we see the point where characters have lost their
‘The Little Governess’ is about a young, inexperienced and vulnerable
woman who gets sexually exploited in a “world full of old men with
twitching knees”. Connotations of the title already suggest that she
is a naïve girl with no experience. She is described as the “little”
governess – suggesting she is a naïve, innocent, vulnerable girl who
is diminutive with no experience. Also, people that became
governesses in those times were usually bright but inexperienced
middle class women. The typical language she uses sets up her
innocence and naivety. Use of German and French dialect expressions
highlights the novelty of European travel for the governess and her
innocence and naivety .She is described as “quite white, with big
round eyes”, “long lashes”, “soft beauty”, these descriptions again
emphasize how childish and innocent she is.
Use of foreshadowing is used to develop themes and is quite obvious
regarding loss of sexual innocence. There is foreshadowing at the
start “I always tell my girls that it’s better to mistrust people at
first rather than trust them”, this sets up the atmosphere and gives a
warning of what will happen later on. The porter that took her bag
away foreshadows that something will be taken away – her innocence.
Also when the old man offers her the strawberries, we can she is
easily persuaded. The strawberries are a sexual symbol; they are
described as being “so big and juicy”. There is also foreshadowing
when the old man “forgot” to put down his umbrella, he clearly wanted
her to keep holding his arm, this suggests he wants a more intimate
relationship with the governess.
Characterisation choices for the male characters in the story also
help develop the themes of innocence and experience. They are either
exploitive of women – the porter and the old man, or they are
malicious and cynical, like the waiter and the group of young men that
was on the train. Her reactions to them were childish, she pretended
to act like a adult but was obviously fighting underneath.
The point where she loses her innocence is when the old man tried to
kiss her. She was panicking, and embarrassed. From this point
onwards, everyone to her seemed more evil and cynical to her, she was
in a world where all old men had “twitching knees”.
In ‘The Woman at the Store’, three travellers arrive at...