Her First Ball by Katherine Mansfield Character 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.

A character analysis takes subtle hints from the story and pieces together the character's personality and point of view. In this lesson, we will examine a few of the main characters in Katherine Mansfield's short story, 'Her First Ball.'

Dance Dance Dance

Do you remember your first dance or prom? Did you have a sibling or friend to help you figure out what to wear or how to talk to someone? The main character in 'Her First Ball', Leila, has her cousins to depend on as she goes to her very first dance. As we observe Leila experience emotions ranging from heightened anticipation to dejection, we learn much about her along the way.

As hard as it is to create detailed characters in short stories, Katherine Mansfield is famous for using symbolism, phrases, and themes to define her characters' personalities. One of the ways she does this is by really getting inside each character's head. By 'hearing' their inner monologue, we get a courtside seat to their innermost thoughts and feelings. Another way that she develops her characters is by offering highly detailed descriptions of her characters' actions and interactions with the world around them. Read on to learn more about the characters in 'Her First Ball'.

Character Analysis

The four main characters who stand out in this lesson are Leila, our main character, the fat man who upsets Leila, and Meg and Laura, who take care of Leila. Here is a more detailed analysis of each character:


Leila is an 18-year-old simple girl and only child, who grew up in the country. So far, she has led a bit of an isolated and sheltered life. She doesn't have much life experiences as yet. This is why, for Leila, going to her very first ball is such a big deal.

On the cab ride to the ball, she admires her male cousin and thinks it is wonderful to have a brother. She feels a bit lonely, as her more experienced cousins do not seem to share her excitement. Through Leila's eyes, the whole world seems bright as she experiences things for the first time. The entire tone of the story is filled with awe and excitement.

Leila is naive and innocent. Her cousins take care of her and look out for her like a child. She is also very honest. She finds it hard to keep her thoughts to herself, especially when excited. When she is asked what she thought of the dance floor, she says ''I think it's most beautifully slippery'', surprising her dance partner. She also doesn't hesitate to tell everyone who asks that this is her very first ball, which demonstrates her naive charm.

When a fat, older man jokes about Leila becoming a sour old woman, bound to sit on the stage and stare down at the young girls eventually, she gets upset. She becomes very aware of how she will not always be young and reacts badly to it. Perhaps missing out on life is a touchy subject for her. She does, however, bounce right back the moment she is dancing again. Leila returns to enjoying the present moment and feels happy again. This shows resilience and maturity. She doesn't take the fat man's words to heart and commits to celebrating her current youth instead.

The Fat Man

The fat man is described as old and balding. He has been attending balls for thirty years. He is also single and bitter. The man seems to take pleasure in taking jabs at a young, naive girl who he takes to dance with him without permission. Though he is not a graceful dancer, the man does have a keen sense of observation. He spots the 'fresh meat' the moment she arrives at the hall.

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