The importance of literary heritage as presented in literature course textbooks may seem largely overrated. The average person of 2015 society thinks and acts in a different way compared to the characters described over a century ago. However, almost all available significant books of the past still are and will stay on the academic curriculums. The magic of literary power lies in fact that many stories tell an experienced reader much more than the meaning of all the words in them. Thus, Katherine Mansfields short story The Daughters of the Late Colonel can be read on many levels psychological, symbolical, on the level of sociology and even religion. Consequently, many of those readings can prove relevant to a person of the 21-st century. However, some issues can undoubtedly become outdated since more than a century has passed. For instance, family relations have undergone big changes and it may be difficult for a reader in his teens to comprehend why Josephine and Constantia would stay forever with their despotic dying father instead of living their own lives. This paper deals both with issues connecting the present-day person to the one of the beginning of the 20-th century and with those phenomena that are already outdated and not relevant to the modern society.
First of all, Katherine Mansfields short story can serve a classic psychological example for anyone doing family therapy or just willing to bring ones relationship with parents to a different level. Josephine and Constantia could as well be any children who waste their lives trying to meet their parents expectations. Mansfields short story elevates the situation to absurdity: the two daughters literally did nothing but tried not to annoy father (Mansfield). Since their mother died young they grew up without being loved and without a proper female role-model for themselves. They vaguely recall their boarding school and an aunt living with them for some time but it is most clear that neither the teachers at school nor the aunt could substitute their mother in the smallest way. The only feminine figures Josephine and Constantia have strong emotional response to are their maid Kate and Nurse Andrews. Those emotional responses are that of fear (to Kate) and annoyance (to the nurse). Thus, one of the two significant women in the lives of Josephine and Constantia is practically the dominant female of the household. It is she who decides what the sisters will eat and who knows where they go and what they think. Constantia was hugely indecisive about Kates behavior. She had solid suspicions that the maid was tampering with her private things when she was cleaning. It also sometimes seemed to the sisters that Kate behaved improper or disrespectful. However, they could not dare to act on any of those suspicions. After their father died it occurred to them that they could let her go and this idea mesmerized and frightened them at the same time. Since there was no one left to cook for they thought they could manage their own cooking. The idea was so brave that even the thought of being liberated from Kate took their breath away. It is evident that being emotionally abused by their own father who literally transformed young girls into sad helpless spinsters, Josephine and Constantia applied the same principle of non-invasiveness and obedience when interacting with any person of authority. It is strange for a person of 2015 to assume that a maid or a nurse could be a person of authority. Nevertheless, looking at how the sisters were silently suffering from the Nurse Andrews presence in their house after their fathers death, there is no doubt that this behavioral model of always pleasing everybody was the only one known and possible for them. It was much easier to suppress ones needs and wishes than to rebel and change anything. They could not even eat their dessert as they wanted because Nurse Andrews wanted jam to go with it: If it hadn't been for this idiotic woman she and Con, of course, have eaten their blancmange without. (Mansfield). Being all their lives under their fathers tyranny Josephine and Constantia did not know how to deal with their freedom and went on living the same way it was when the father was still alive as if by force of inertia. They could not dare to give their fathers hat to the porter, they could not pull themselves together to go through his personal belongings and they were even terrified about what their father would say when he found out that they let him to be buried: Josephine had had a moment of absolute terror at the cemetery, while the coffin was lowered, to think that she and Constantia had done this thing without asking his permission. "Buried. You two girls had me buried!" She heard his stick thumping (Mansfield).
Speaking about how a present-day reader could benefit from reading The Daughters of the Late Colonel, the most important conclusion that must be made is to remember that a persons life is their own only and it must be up to them to decide what to do with it. Living in your parents shadow one may end up becoming a helpless nobody who is not able of doing anything worthy of ones own. Modern-day parents seem much less tyrannical at first sight as they do not make their children stay with them forever to take care of them. However, if we think about those children who are made to play musical instruments for years in schools and then are forced to enter a prestigious department of the university (while dreaming to become a rock star) the analogy becomes obvious.
Another possible reading of Mansfields short story is a symbolic one. Josephine and Constantias dead father could symbolize the end of imperialist colonialism: These girls have only known imperialist colonialism and once their chains have been broken, they dont know how to run (Critical thinking). A present-day person might have an insight at historical processes that take place when a colony is liberated. Bewildered and disoriented, they still need guidance, at least a friendly one. Todays students of history can have a better understanding of why liberated nations took more time than they reasonably needed to start functioning properly only because it is difficult to switch to a new mode of existing, the one without an authoritative figure programming all their being.
The story could be read in several other ways as a sociological analysis of 1920-s society and a story of religious awakening with help of nature (the scene where Constantia is standing in front of her Buddha meditating). However, this paper cannot encompass all the possible readings properly due to its size.
As for why the story fails to be relevant to the present-day reader is a more complicated issue. The story is meaningful on so many levels that even the person of 22-nd century is sure to find something to think about in it. However, if one does need to find some arguments against, one may say that family structure and gender roles have modified a lot since 1920-s, so old spinsters staying with their sick parents all their lives is not an issue relevant to modern society. Another possible counterargument is the fact that New Zealand, where the story is set, lived through the post-colonial syndrome long ago so symbolic interpretations concern only the history not the present.
To sum it up, the story can be relevant to the person of 2015 mostly through psychological interpretation of the story, i.e. the influence of despotic parents on their childrens lives. A present-day person can draw useful conclusions about what to do with their lives not to follow the Pinners sisters notorious example. Other readings of the story - symbolic, religious and sociological are less relevant since they can interest only a small proportion of the readers. The arguments against the storys relevance to modern society are that family and gender relations are no longer like those described in the story so their portrayal might be of little use to many readers.
Mansfield, Katherine. The Daughters of the Last Colonel Web.
Critical thinking: Katherine Mansfield: Modernism and freedom from Imperialism. Web. Sept.2015.
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