Male protagonists and their marital situation portrayed in Katherine Mansfield’s “The Stranger” and “A Birthday”

Examination Thesis, 2008

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. The Stranger
2.1 John Hammond
2.2 The relationship between John Hammond and his wife Janey
2.2.1 Janey
2.2.2 The relationship

3. A Birthday
3.1 Andreas Binzer
3.2 The relationship between Andreas Binzer and his wife Anna
3.2.1 Anna
3.2.2 The relationship

4. Comparison between the two male protagonists and their relationships

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Many of Katherine Mansfield’s stories deal with relationship, friendship, marriage and family life.[1] The male-female relationship always plays a major role in her stories and is an ever returning motif throughout her works. Nevertheless, the ways they are presented are always different but the same. The settings and the plot usually differ, bur the problems of male-female relationship, such as the dominating male character always return. Her own personal experience in her family background might be one reason for it.

Nevertheless, she did not always focus on relationship problems, she could also write perfectly about romances and romantic relationships, as in The Singing Lesson, Poison or Mr. and Mrs. Dove. This might have portrayed her own longing for a romance.

The focus of the following discourse is set on the unhappy relationships she portrayed in her works. It deals not only with the relationship itself, but also with the male characters and how they change or do not change throughout the story. The stories chosen are A Birthday and The Stranger. The reason for only choosing two is the limited space for the discourse, which makes it impossible to include a third story. At the Bay, for instance, would have been another perfect example for this issue. All of them represent alienation in a relationship and portray different reasons for this to happen. In order to characterize the relationship, not only the male protagonists will be highlighted, but also the female characters of the stories.

At the end the differences and similarities between the male protagonists and their relationship will be shown and worked out. The fact that this will be an own passage in the discourse will make the conclusion rather short, since the comparison of the two characters and their relationship also summarizes the discourse.

2. The Stranger

As many other of Mansfield’s stories, “The Stranger“is based on some of her personal experiences. The story reports the reunion of a couple after a 10 month separation with the wife being in England to visit her daughter for her wedding in this period. So did Katherine’s mother in 1909, when Mrs. Beauchamp went to England to visit her daughter and eventually returned to New Zealand. As in the story The Stranger, also in the real journey taken by Mrs. Beauchamp a passenger became ill and died eventually during the journey.[2] While in the story it might seem that it was an unusual and unexpected incident, it was quite common that people died on a long journey as the one from England to Australia or vice versa. The journey was long and the conditions during the journey were tough, with little space for the people on board and a lot of room and space for diseases to spread.

Interesting in the story is the paradox style it is written. While “the story is about impatience, […] the style of narration is rather leisurely”[3]. The story is narrated by a third person narrator with a limited point of view, the view of the male protagonist John Hammond. Katherine Mansfield also used this masculine point of view in other stories like The Escape, Marriage á la Mode or A married Man’s Tale” to characterize the man’s role in a relationship.[4]

2.1 John Hammond

At the beginning of the story the outward appearance of John Hammond is being described as following

In the front of the crowd a strong-looking, middle-aged man, dressed very well, very snugly in a grey overcoat, grey silk scarf, thick gloves and dark felt hat, marched up and down, twirling his folded umbrella. He seemed to be the leader of the little crowd on the wharf and at the same time to keep them together. He was something between the sheep-dog and the shepherd .[5]

This description depicts the characteristics as well as the outward appearance of John Hammond quite well. Furthermore it is supposed to show the readers that John Hammond wants everybody to know that he is a “real” man, since this passage includes many hints and symbols connected to manhood. It starts with a simple description of his outward appearance, what he looks like and what he is wearing, which is very important for a first impression of a character. What could make this man quiet interesting is the mixture of him looking strong on the one hand and on the other hand being described as “snugly”[6].

But most importantly he is described in a way as an “alpha-animal”, which will become important later when the relationship to his beloved wife is being described. The metaphor of the shepherded and the sheep-dog points this out very well. He is not only the leader of the group, which would be the shepherd; he is also the one who keeps the group together, the sheep-dog. Also he is very wealthy and successful[7] and seems to be quite outgoing when wife is not being around him (“the music he had praised so loudly”[8] ). But this is only the outward impression of him. When looking at his actions and behavior in the course of the story, it turns out that he is not the man he wants everybody else to think he is.

Instead of acting manly, secure and confident while waiting for the ship and his wife to arrive, he acts nervous, insecure and impatient. Instead of waiting patiently on the wharf, as most of the other people do, he acts nervous and cannot stand still, which shows his “terrible insecureness”[9]. The divergence between his outward appearance and the way he act and behaves prior to his wife’s also shows that he is someone who is suffering “from inner disruption, but who strives for a feeling of completeness.”[10]


[1] Marianne Dada-Büchel. Katherine Mansfield’s Dual Vision. Tübingen: Francke, 1995. p. 127ff.

[2] Comp. Anthony Alpers. The Life of Katherine Mansfield. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1983. pp. 94,95.

[3] R.A. York. The Rules of Time. Fairleigh: Fairleigh Dickensen UP, 1999. p. 82.

[4] Dada-Büchel, 161.

[5] Katherine Mansfield. The Stranger. In: Katherine Masfield. The Collected Short Stories . London: Penguin Books, 2001. 350-364. p. 350.

[6] Mansfield. The Stranger, 350.

[7] Comp. Jeffery Meyers. Katherine Mansfield – A Biography. London: New Directions, 1978. p. 214.

[8] Mansfield. The Stranger, 359 ff.

[9] Meyers, 214.

[10] Dada-Büchel, 161.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Male protagonists and their marital situation portrayed in Katherine Mansfield’s “The Stranger” and “A Birthday”
University of Trier  (Anglistik)
Oberseminar Mansfield
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Male, Katherine, Mansfield’s, Stranger”, Birthday”, Oberseminar, Mansfield
Quote paper
Heinrich Mario Nink (Author), 2008, Male protagonists and their marital situation portrayed in Katherine Mansfield’s “The Stranger” and “A Birthday”, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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