Bliss by Katherine Mansfield: Summary & Analysis

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.

If you are reading the short story ''Bliss'' by Katherine Mansfield, check out the following lesson where we break down the summary and offer an analysis of the story. Read on to get the scoop.

Misunderstandings

Have you ever had a crush on someone only to discover that the feelings weren't mutual? If so, you'll probably relate to what Bertha experiences in the short story ''Bliss.'' Follow along as we join Bertha on her strange and complex journey of emotions.

Dancing

''Bliss'' opens up by describing how a woman named Bertha Young is walking home and reflecting on how badly she wants to ''to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again.'' She thinks about how stupid it is that society makes this sort of behavior unacceptable at her age.

The Baby

When Bertha gets home, she does some decorating by putting fruit into a bowl. When she looks at it, she thinks it is so odd that she laughs. She then heads off to visit her daughter. The child jumps up when she sees her mom, but the nurse makes it clear that the baby needs to stay calm. Bertha feels like a poor girl watching a rich girl who has an expensive doll. The nanny begrudgingly lets Bertha finish feeding the baby.

The Guests Arrive

Bertha chats with her husband over the phone. He lets her know that he will be late for their dinner party that evening. Bertha continues getting the house ready until the guests show up. They are an unusual group. A couple shows up who tells the story of how the woman's shirt upset their driver because it had little monkeys on it. The next man who shows up also complains of his bizarre trip, explaining that the taxi didn't stop even when he told him to. The guest felt like he was going to be riding in the taxi for eternity.

The Truth Comes Out (But Bertha Doesn't)

The dinner party continues with Bertha thinking about her feelings towards one of the guests named Pearl. Bertha feels an attraction towards this woman and believes that the feeling is mutual. When Bertha is alone with Pearl for a few moments, she is convinced that Pearl has feelings of attraction as well. Bertha thinks about telling her husband about this and then all of a sudden, for the first time, she feels an attraction for her husband. As Pearl is leaving, Bertha eavesdrops on her husband saying goodbye to the woman. This is when she discovers that the two are having an affair.

Analysis

Right from the beginning of this story, the idea of repression and unknown truths is presented. When Bertha talks about how much she wants to dance along the sidewalk, we learn that the only reason why she cannot is because of society's expectations. Rather than follow her own desires, she simply does (although begrudgingly) what others expect her to do.

This lack of connection with the truth is similar to the way that Bertha views her marriage. She admits that she is not attracted to her husband and that he does not excite her sexually. Despite these facts, she has followed society's requirements by getting married and having a child. In these instances, Mansfield seems to be pointing out how society demands behavior and how easy it is to slip into a habit of following expectations rather than desires and miss out on bliss by conforming.

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