Bliss by Katherine Mansfield: Summary, Themes & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Summary of 'Bliss'
  • 1:19 Analysis and Themes of 'Bliss'
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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're reading 'Bliss' by Katherine Mansfield, you may have found it tough to decipher what's going on in the story. Don't worry, you're not alone. Check out this lesson for a summary and an analysis, as well as a glimpse at the themes.

Summary of 'Bliss'

'Bliss,' by Katherine Mansfield, is often considered a challenging read. It doesn't follow a traditional time line. The story lives inside the main character's chaotic mind. Let's break it down and see if we can sort out the details.

'Bliss' starts off with a woman named Bertha thinking about how wonderful, how blissful, she feels at times. She's heading home and when she arrives, she spends a few moments with her baby. Normally the baby, Little B, is cared for by a nanny. The narration explores Bertha's feelings, especially how she feels passionately happy over things that seem small, like a bowl of grapes, a pillow, or a pear tree.

Bertha has a dinner party in the evening with a group of friends. Bertha focuses on the most random pieces of information; the color of one of the guest's socks, for example. Bertha is attracted to one of the guests named Miss Pearl Fulton and hopes Pearl feels the same. The two women share what Bertha thinks is an intimate moment. As it turns out, Pearl is actually sleeping with Bertha's husband. The story ends when the dinner guests leave and Bertha spends a few moments looking at her pear tree, observing 'The pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still.'

Analysis and Themes of 'Bliss'

One of the most gripping themes from 'Bliss' is sexuality. Specifically, the idea of repressed sexuality. Bertha has a sexual interest in Pearl and seems desperate to confirm that Pearl shares the attraction. The intensity of these feelings causes Bertha to misunderstand a few moments that the women spend together looking at Bertha's garden. Bertha readily admits that she isn't sexually satisfied by her husband and begins to feel that Pearl might be able to satisfy her. The theme of sexuality is also heavily illuminated by the fact that Bertha's husband, Harry, is having an affair with Pearl.

Another prevalent theme is what happens to a repressed mind. From the very start of the story, Bertha thinks about the idea of being repressed. Her bliss is kept locked away. At one point during dinner, she finds herself dreaming about a romantic interlude with Pearl. Even though her mind is wandering, she stays politely engaged with her dinner guests. She laughs and chats, but also thinks, 'I must laugh or die.' In other words, she has to offer a presentable front to cover her thoughts.

A further manifestation of this repression comes when we follow Bertha's thoughts. Things aren't explained clearly, and we can assume this is because her mind is a million miles from reality. At one point we get the following bit of narration: 'Mug took his eye out of the conservatory for a moment and then put it under glass again and Eddie Warren drank his coffee and set down the cup with a face of anguish as though he had drunk and seen the spider.' This seems to present us with a taste of just how disconnected from the moment Bertha really is.

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