Alienation in the life and works of Katherine Mansfield
Middleton, Bettye L. Sutherland
Master of Arts
Katherine Mansfield, a British short story writer of the first part of the twentieth century, lived in the chaotic social and cultural atmosphere that marks this age, a time when old traditions were crumbling, belief in the established faiths suffered attacks of doubt, and the rise of the industrialized economy created an atmosphere of widespread alienation. Mansfield was not exempt from the influence of this instability in social conditions nor from the anxieties of estrangement and alienation from life around her. In Chapter One, this thesis attempts to establish the general tone and atmosphere of alienation suffered by the age and to examine some of the causes for this estrangement. Under the influence of this atmosphere, Mansfield experienced a personal sense of alienation, experiences which affected her vision of life and reflected in her literary creations. Alienation, on the personal level from which Mansfield developed her message, is a process which can have several levels or degrees of intensity. Some levels of alienation may be of equivalent intensity, while other degrees are obviously more intense and agonizing. Mansfield's works have been divided, in Chapter Two, into various types or degrees of alienation which she attempted to portray. One type is the alienation between friends and lovers, which does not seem to be as intense a stage of alienation on the whole as in the involvement of closer ties of affection, such as parent-child alienation or husband-wife alienation. Then there is the alienation from a larger group of people, social estrangement which includes the anxiety of nonbelonging and nonacceptance. Fifthly, the agony of total individual alienation from all human contact, from all identification with life in nature and from all objects of affection comprises one of the more intense forms of alienation. Lastly, the irrevocable alienation of death is the one form of alienation in which all hope is gone of overcoming the absolute separation that is established. Chapter Three is an attempt to discover some pattern to the conclusions Mansfield developed through her experiences with alienation and to define the faith which she accepted shortly before her death, a faith in love which could dispel the disunity of self-alienation, allowing her to achieve unity and oneness of being.