Taking the Veil by Mansfield: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Lauren Posey

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

In this lesson you will learn about ''Taking the Veil,'' a short story by Katherine Mansfield. In addition to reading a summary of the story, we'll analyze some of the literary elements.

A Plot Imagined

When you think about the plot, or main events and action, of a story, you might first think about things that are actually happening to the characters. However, this is not the only type of action that can occur. Have you ever read a story where the main plot points occurred inside a character's mind? This is what Katherine Mansfield has done in her short story ''Taking the Veil.'' The only real-world action that occurs, is when the main character, Edna, walks from the library to a nearby garden. The rest of the story takes place either in Edna's memory or in her imagination.

Story Overview

The story begins during Edna's walk from the library. She is depressed, despite the beautiful day and cheerful scenes surrounding her. As she walks she remembers the previous evening, when she went out to a play with her fiancee, Jimmy. She was incredibly moved by the actor's performance, and at the end of it believed herself to be completely in love with the actor. She feels more strongly than she ever has before, and is convinced that she has to end her year-long engagement to Jimmy. This is in spite of the fact that, ''...they had known they were going to marry each other ever since they walked in the Botanical Gardens with their nurses, and sat on the grass with a wine biscuit and a piece of barley-sugar each for their tea.'' She believes her love for the actor is stronger than her devotion to Jimmy.

Much of the rest of the story is a fantasy that plays out in Edna's mind, while she sits in the garden of a nearby convent. She imagines breaking up with Jimmy and how it will hurt him. She then plays out what her life will be like afterward. She imagines joining a convent (also known as 'taking the veil,' ). The fantasy goes further, and Edna imagines her own death from an illness she gets when rescuing a stray animal from the cold. When she imagines the distress of Jimmy at her funeral, Edna wakes up from her fantasy and realizes that it is Jimmy that she loves after all and that it is not too late to go on with their marriage as planned. This is especially true since she has said absolutely nothing to him about her crush!

Further Analysis

The overarching theme, or topic, that ''Taking the Veil'' centers around, is Edna's innocence and lack of experience. A number of different literary elements come into play to reinforce this theme, including setting, characterization, and plot.

Setting and Characterization

The setting of several parts of the story adds to this theme. First, there is the garden where Edna chooses to sit in, as she imagines her future. She sits ''...under a new-leafed tree, hung with little bunches of white flowers.'' White traditionally represents innocence and purity, and it reinforces Edna's innocent nature. The setting of her 'falling in love' adds to this as well, because it is a play. She did not fall for a man on the street or someone she knew, but for a man acting out a performance. This shows that she is so naive that she cannot distinguish between the actor and the character he is playing.

The white flowers of the tree represent innocence.
Tree with white flowers

Finally, the setting of her fantasy is a convent, which is where a person goes to become a nun. Convents are traditionally places of innocence.

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