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The Voyage by Mansfield: Summary & Symbolism

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 Katherine Mansfield's short story 'The Voyage.' After looking at a summary of the story, we will explore the symbolism Mansfield uses.

Stories About Travel

How many stories can you think of that have travel in them? Probably quite a few, right? Travel is a common subject to come up in books and short stories. Sometimes a trip is the entire focus of the action in the story. This is the case for Katherine Mansfield's short story 'The Voyage.' The story focuses on a boat trip that a grandmother and granddaughter take to Picton, New Zealand.

Summary of 'The Voyage'

'The Voyage' begins with a grandmother, her son, and his daughter walking quickly to catch a boat to Picton. The girl's name is Fenella, and the story is from her perspective, or point of view. No specific reason is given at first for their leaving, and it is only the grandmother and Fenella who get on the boat. Fenella's father comes on long enough for them all to say tearful goodbyes and to give Fenella a shilling, and then he gets off.

We can see that they are not rich people when the grandmother asks about sandwiches and is shocked at the price. We can also see that the grandmother has been on this boat before. The stewardess recognizes her and remembers that she doesn't usually get her own cabin. Grandmother comments that her son kindly paid for it.

Throughout the trip, Fenella is given the responsibility of carrying Grandmother's umbrella. She has to be careful with it so that it doesn't break, and Grandmother mentions the umbrella and asks if Fenella has it several times. Fenella does remember it, except for once when she forgets to lay it down flat and Grandmother asks the stewardess to do it.

Fenella and her grandmother traveled by boat
Steamboat

Reason for Leaving

During the boat trip, we find out why Fenella and her grandmother left. The stewardess notes the black clothing the girl and grandmother are wearing, and later refers to Fenella as 'Poor little motherless mite!' Fenella falls asleep during Grandmother's conversation with the stewardess, so we do not hear exactly what happened. However, from the stewardess' comments and descriptions, we can tell that Fenella's mother recently died.

Fenella's descriptions of the small cabin, and the fact that she has rarely seen her grandmother without her hat, tell us that Fenella has not traveled much, and has not stayed with her grandmother often.

Picton

Eventually the pair reach Picton, and a horse and cart pick them up and take them to Grandmother's house. They go inside, and Fenella meets her grandfather, who is ill and stays in bed. Fenella sees a painting hanging over the bed. It says:

'Lost! One Golden Hour Set with Sixty Diamond Minutes. No Reward Is Offered For It Is Gone For Ever.'

After she reads this, Fenella's grandfather tells her that her grandmother painted it. He also smiles cheerfully at her, to the point that he might even be winking, though Fenella is not certain if he did.

Symbolism

Katherine Mansfield makes excellent use of symbolism, which is when an object represents something more than its literal self.

The Umbrella

One major symbol in the story is Grandmother's umbrella. It symbolizes responsibility. Fenella has to carry it and look after it throughout the whole story, and she does so very responsibly. This represents that Fenella will have to be more responsible since her mother has died, and the umbrella symbolizes her first steps towards this new level of responsibility.

The umbrella symbolizes responsibility
Umbrella

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