An Ideal Family by Katherine Mansfield: Summary & Characters

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

'An Ideal Family' is written by Katherine Mansfield. The story circles around a man who is complimented about how perfect his family is, but he seems to think otherwise. In this lesson, we will cover the summary and characters of this story. Updated: 11/23/2021

What is perfect?

Has someone ever complimented you about something that you didn't think much of? Something that everyone else seems to appreciate more than you do.The main character of An Ideal Family has such a predicament. He doesn't seem to think that his family is very ideal. Why does he feel so? Read on and find out.

Not that Ideal

Mr. Neave is an old businessman, walking home from work. It's a beautiful day in spring and he seems to be feeling glum but doesn't know why. He thinks about it and stops in his tracks. The air feels heavy but he continues to greet everyone with false glee. He thinks back to his day, it has been just another usual day. He thinks of how his son, Harold, disappears after lunch and didn't come back. Harold is very handsome; so handsome that all women including his sisters and mother spoil and forgive him for everything. Mr. Neave says that Harold has been in need of forgiveness since he was thirteen years old. And now this young man stands to inherit his company. A company he says a man has to ''put his whole heart and soul into it, or it went all to pieces before his eyes''.

His daughters tell Mr. Neave that it is time for him to retire; get a hobby. His youngest daughter, Lola thinks that all men should have a hobby. Mr. Neave is peeved at this notion. They are enjoying the fruits of his labor, like a seaside bungalow, town house, horses, golf, etc. He can't stand the idea of sitting at home and letting Harold ruin all his hard work. Retirement seems cruel to him.

On many occasions, Mr. Neave has been complimented for having ''an ideal family.'' His wife and daughters are all beautiful. He assumes that they did not get married because he has given them such a good life at home. He reaches home to his house full of women. He hears Charlotte speaking to Ethel and Marion. Lola bursts into the room to greet him and runs away as quickly when the phone rings. They ask him why he walked home instead of taking a taxi. Marion is condescending and tells her mother she needs to be strict with him and that she spoils him. When they are asked about Harold, all they say is ''he said...'' and changed the topic.

He sits down in his chair and dozes off. They continue to talk about things he has no interest in. All he thinks is that ''they are too rich for him.'' He wakes up and is informed of visitors coming over that evening.

Charles, a young man who works for them, helps Mr. Neave dress and leaves him in his room. He then falls asleep and has a strange vivid dream. He dreams of a spider running around in the house and a voice telling him goodbye and that his family is unrecognizable to him. It's his young wife's voice, he had fallen asleep and his entire life had been a dream.

Then Charles opens the door and announces that dinner is ready. Old man Neave wakes up and says ''I'm coming, I'm coming''.

The Family

The main characters that stand out in this story are Mr. Neave, Harold and his daughters. Charlotte (his wife) doesn't play much of a role.

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