The Doll's House

The Doll's House Study Guide

Katherine Mansfield's 1922 short story "The Doll's House" is about the daughters of the wealthy Burnell family receiving an elaborate doll's house which the girls show off to children at school. The Burnell girls' mother forbids them from inviting over the impoverished Kelvey sisters, whose mother is a washerwoman and whose father is rumored to be in prison. After every other girl from the Burnells' mixed-income school comes over to see the doll's house, Kezia, the youngest Burnell, secretly brings the Kelveys into the family's courtyard. While Kezia shows them the doll's house, Kezia's aunt angrily shoos away the Kelveys. In its depiction of the casual cruelty that results from extreme income inequality, "The Doll's House" illustrates the class prejudice of early twentieth-century New Zealand and the unreflecting way in which children lose their innocence and emulate their elders' propensity to shame and ostracize the underprivileged.

Mansfield wrote "The Doll's House" while seeking tuberculosis treatments in Switzerland. The story first appeared in the London periodical The Nation and Athenaeum, and one year later was published as the title story in a story collection entitled The Doll's House and Other Stories.

Like other works by Mansfield, "The Doll's House" is an example of early literary modernism, a stylistic movement characterized by the use of interior monologues and multiple points of view. The story is notable for its use of free indirect discourse, a style of third-person narration that allows the narrative voice to slip freely in and out of characters' interior monologues. In "The Doll's House," free indirect discourse results in the narrative voice adopting the upper-class characters' prejudiced diction and opinions, thereby exposing the supposedly rational but ultimately unexamined reality of the privileged characters.