Bliss by Katherine Mansfield: Characters & Quotes

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

''Bliss'' by Katherine Mansfield is a good example of a character-driven story. In this lesson you'll learn about the characters, including their personalities and roles within the story.

Driven by Characters

Think about the last story you read. How did the action of the story develop? In some stories, there is little action as far as external things happening to the characters, or the people in the story. Instead, the plot is driven by what the characters are thinking and how they react to external events. One example is ''Bliss'' by Katherine Mansfield. In this story there is little external action, and the plot and interest of the story come from the characters and their talk and relationships with one another.

What Happens?

Before we discuss the characters, let's recap what happens in the story. It takes place over one day, and we get the perspective, or point of view, of Bertha Young. Bertha comes home and spends a joyful afternoon flitting around her house, decorating, spending time with her baby, and preparing to host a dinner party. We see how happy she is and how much she loves her husband, baby, and her life in general. She takes particular note of their blooming pear tree, and it seems to represent how perfect her life is.

Later, the guests arrive, and the party begins. It is very pleasant and friendly, and everyone seems to have a good time. During the party, Bertha has a realization: ''For the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband.'' She realizes she is sexually attracted to him, which she had not been before.

Moments after this self-discovery, her guests leave. Harry, her husband, walks one guest, Mrs. Fulton, to the door. Bertha can see them around the corner, and realizes as they embrace that Harry and Mrs. Fulton are having an affair. Bertha runs to the pear tree, her symbol of happiness, ''But the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still.'' She sees that the external world has not changed at all, even though her personal one has been turned upside down.

The pear tree symbolizes her happiness.
Pear tree blossoms

Who Takes Part?

Since ''Bliss'' is a character-driven story, it is important to look closely at the characters in order to understand this story.

Bertha Young

Bertha Young is the protagonist, or main character. She is 30 years old and full of life: ''...she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement...'' She is a the mother of a baby girl referred to as Little B.

Bertha's excitement and happiness continue throughout the story. We see that ''Harry and she were as much in love as ever…She had an adorable baby...'' Bertha loves her life and her family, and everything seems perfect until the very end, when she discovers the affair.

Harry Young

Harry is Bertha's husband. We learn from Bertha that he is passionate, though in a less joyful and airy way than Bertha. She tells us: ''Harry had such a zest for life…{a} passion for fighting...''

He does not seem to care about his daughter. He tells a friend named Mrs. Knight: ''don't ask me about my baby. I never see her. I shan't feel the slightest interest in her until she has a lover.'' This shows us that he is not a devoted father and won't be interested in his daughter until she is an adult.

In the end, we find out that Harry is not as in love with his wife as she thinks. Harry is having an affair with Mrs. Fulton, his wife's friend whom he claims to dislike.

Mrs. Fulton

Mrs. Fulton lends an air of mystery to the story. Bertha loves her but can't figure her out. Bertha comments: ''...the way she has of sitting with her head a little on one side, and smiling, has something behind it…'' As it turns out, this 'something' is the affair with Harry.

The Dinner Party

Besides Mrs. Fulton, there are three guests at the dinner party. Their character traits, or aspects of their personality, help round them out as people and as Bertha's friends. Mr. and Mrs. Knight, for example, are cheerfully in love with one another, and call each other 'Face' and 'Mug' as pet names.

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