Analyzing 'A Cup of Tea' by Katherine Mansfield

Essay by So_fly November 2008

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The story is written by Katherine Mansfield – a famous New Zealand writer. She is well known for her short stories. The analysis of the one of them called ‘A Cup of Tea’ (1922) which is considered to be one of her latest works you can find below.

From the first lines we get acquainted with the protagonist of the story – Rosemary Fell. Her appearance is being presented. ‘No you couldn’t have called her beautiful Pretty?’ We have rather vague image here. The author writes she is amazingly well-read in the newest of the books which sounds controversial.

Her husband adores her; her child is a duck of a boy. We can trace that she is extremely arrogant and she has a certain amount of charisma. “No lilac. It’s got no shape. The attendant put the lilac out of sight as though this was only too true.” But even fabulously rich people have their problems.

After shutting the discreet door she sinks into a grey cold and dull life of the city, the life of ordinary people to which she is like an alien. A cold bitter taste in the air, sad lamps, regretting fire of lamps, rushing people and their hateful umbrellas – everything speaks of her inner dissatisfaction and maybe allergy to the other life, the life which is outside her shelter. She wants to escape from the place and presses a muff against her breast as though touching herself and saying “I want to be back to my real life not this awful parody of being”.

Suddenly a girl stammered as author writes for the price of a cup of tea in a very desperate way. But in fact Rosemary is amazed instead of feeling some kind of sympathy. She peers through the dusk as though feeling some distance and it seems to her such an adventure. Rosemary doesn’t spare even a smallest moment of her thought to stand in the girls shoes or rather she just can’t since she doesn’t know the opposite side of the coin. The only way of living she knows is one that is in the little antique shop on Curzon Street or, say, another one on Bond Street.

So Rosemary takes her home feeling a triumph as she nets a little captive. It’s evident that Rosemary is just playing with a prey like a cat does.”Now, I got you”. Rosemary is longing to be generous and is going to prove that as Mansfield writes ‘wonderful things do happen in life’, in the life of the upper class, to which Rosemary is a fine example, and it seems that the only things she cares about are her feelings and amusement.

After they arrive at the house the action starts in Rosemary’s bedroom. Mansfield is trying to underline Rosemary’s status – ‘the fire leaping on her wonderful lacquer furniture’, ‘gold cushions’ all these things dazed the poor girl. Rosemary on her part was very relaxed and pleased; she lit a cigarette in stead of taking proper care of Miss Smith. By the way her name is not even mentioned yet, like it’s of no importance at all. We can find the girl on the brink of the psychological despair. “I am going to faint, to go off, madam.” So much she is stuck by the contrast. “It was a terrible fascinating moment. Rosemary knelt beside her chair” The girl becomes completely restless: “I can’t bear it. I shall do away with myself” Rosemary is “really touched beyond words” but suddenly she asks her to stop crying “It’s so exhausting. Please stop crying” Rosemary shows her true face here. She can’t face the reality the poor as it is; Rosemary Fell sees everything in rose-coloured spectacles, through the filter of the upper class society. And it looks if not pathetic then quite sad.

But after the marvelous meal our creature transforms into something undeniably attractive – “frail creature, a kind of sweet languor”. And for Rosemary it’s high time to begin. Instead of asking her name or other decent question Rosemary’s firstly was interested in her meal, it is quite impolite.

The Philip enters, smiling his charming smile and asks his wife to come in to the library. He requires explanations from his wife, learning that the girl is as Rosemary says ‘a real pick up’ that Rosemary wanted “to be nice to her’. Philip guesses what is all about shows his remonstrance against the idea ‘it simply can’t be done’. And then he uses his heavy artillery – calls miss Smith ‘so astonishingly pretty’. He knows it will do some harm to his wife. These words immediately heat jealousy in Rosemary’s veins up. “Pretty? Do you think that?” and she could help blushing. “She’s absolutely lovely!” Rosemary looses her temper “You absurd creature!” She recollects his words over and over. And all leads to the phrase “Miss Smith won’t dine with us tonight” We can observe that Philip doesn’t seem to look surprised “Oh, what happened? Previous engagement?” he rather knew it would happen. Rosemary is eager to retain her husband’s attention.”Do you like me?” May I have the enamel box? “Philip, am I pretty?”The Rosemary seems to be so distant from poverty but on the other hand she doesn’t have anything really valuable, like a basement to lead such glorious life in this world – no taste, no wish to see the world in the raw, sometimes no manners, and perhaps even no prettiness. That’s why she is trying to have things and do things which would help to retain the status like knowing more about the poor and having beautiful things to be associated with. To put in a nutshell the story is reach in different stylistic devices and I think conveys a distinct and valuable message.

Bibliography1. ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

4.English by Correspondence Vesnik D.A. Moscow, 1976