Question: Analyse how small details were used to explore big ideas. “Ideas” may refer to character, theme, or setting.
Wealth can influence individuals in many ways, It can shape their lives, relationships and personalities. The short story ‘The Dolls House’, written by Katherine Mansfield is focused on the difference of social classes, high and low and how it structures life in a small village. She displays this through the two families in her story, the Burnells who are wealthy and from a high social class and the Kelveys who are poor and from a low social class. Mansfield uses multiple small details throughout the story to explore big ideas, such as characters, themes and settings.
Throughout the story Mansfied uses animal imagery to describe the low class Kelveys. I believe she used this small detail to show how the community dehumanises Lil and Else as well as their family. It creates this impression that they are sub-human and outcasts of society. There were six examples of this throughout the short story, ‘a tiny wishbone of a child’, ‘a little white owl’, ‘two little stray cats’, ‘as if they were chickens’, and ‘those little rats of Kelveys’. I think the purpose behind the use of these words is to show the unfairness of this type of racial prejudice used towards the Kelveys. This represents that even though the Kelveys are quiet, polite and kind, this is irrelevant as they are from a poor background and considered from the lower class, therefore other individuals should not talk or associate themselves with them. Hence why the Kelveys are treated so badly from most characters in this story. These small details have backed up Mansfield’s big idea of how wealth can control people’s lives even in a small village.
Another small detail Mansfeild uses is the description of the Kelveys clothing and lunches compared to the Burnells. The children ate their school lunches. The Burnells ate their “Thick mutton sandwiches and big slabs of johnny cake spread with butter” while the Kelveys “chewed their jam sandwiches out of a newspaper soaked with large red blobs”. Mansfield used this small detail to highlight the differing social status of the two groups and what food they could afford. This was the same with the childrens clothing. The Burnells would always wear the newest and most expensive pieces, while the Kelveys had to upcycle items from high social class families into clothing. Lil was wearing a dress which was made from the Burnells old tablecloth and another families curtains. I believe this would be quite embarrassing for the Kelveys as they probably know where their clothes are from, likewise with the Burnells. I’m sure they know that the Kelveys can only afford second hand items. This is quite a sad point in the story. Although the lunches and the childrens clothing are both small details, It provides the reader with more information in a description and interesting way. This again relates to the main idea of the differences in wealth and social classes and I can imagine how the Burnell family would respond to what little the Kelveys had.
A significant small detail Mansfeild uses at the end of the story are the big white gates into the Burnells home. After school Kezia is hanging around outside when she sees two little dots coming towards her. She soon notices that it’s the Kelveys, Lil and Else. As they walk by, Kezia swings open the gates into their property and invites the girls to come in to have a look at the dolls house. This detail is relevant as it shows Kezia physically breaking the barrier between lower and high class families. This is an important part of the story as it connects to the big idea of social classes shaping lives. Throughout the story it is demonstrated that the high social class families are stuck up, rude, unkind, not thoughtful and not accepting of others. Kezia opening the gates and inviting the Kelveys inside shows her kindness. Although she is from a wealthy family and has been brought up being told not to talk to the Kelveys, she sees that being caring and considerate to others is more important. Being a Burnell, having a nice house, nice clothes and nice gifts isn’t an important aspect to Kezia. It is demonstrated that Kezia values inclusion of others and she doesn’t care about the difference in social classes. This small detail of the gate is so important as it’s a big part in the story where we see someone break the stereotype of wealthy and unkind families in the village.
In conclusion, it is evident that the small detail amongst the story helped the reader to understand the big idea in this short story. The use of animal imagery, school lunches, children’s clothing and the white gates all have a significant purpose and give the story more description and detail. I believe Mansfeild used these small details to back up her big idea of how wealth can shape people’s lives, personalities and relationships and to give us a picture in our heads of what is going on in the story. Overall the small details were effective and supported Mansfeilds main message in the story.