The Arrival of the Doll’s House in the Burnell family:
The Burnell children receive a doll’s house from Mrs Hay, who had come to stay with them. The children were so excited about the doll’s house, and they decide to show it off to their school friends. With the arrival of the doll's house, the Burnell children get so excited and greatly attracted to it. While the two older children admire the red carpet, the red chairs, and the gold frames of this richly decorated house, Kezia, the youngest of the girls, takes an interest in the rather simple lamp.
The Doll’s House – Cynosure of all Eyes:
In school, during playtime, Isabel, the eldest of the Burnell children, was surrounded. The girls of her class nearly fought to be her special friend. All the girls, giggling together, pressed up close to have a look at the doll’s house, which was the cynosure of all eyes now. The only two who stayed outside the ring were the little Kelveys. Many of the children, including the Burnells, were not allowed to speak to them. The Kelveys were shunned by everybody. When Kezia asks her mother, "Can't I ask the Kelveys just once?" To which, the response is, "Certainly not, Kezia!”
The fact that even the teacher had a special voice for them, and a special smile for the other children speaks to the discreet (or rather distinct) ways in which class consciousness is practised even by teachers themselves, in maintaining the social hierarchy.
Symbolism of the Lamp:
Kezia took a great liking for the undecorated lamp. While the others seem to be interested in the gaudy decorations that adorn the house, for Kezia, “the lamp was perfect”. “It was so real”. When Isabel, the bossy eldest sister went on describing the various features of the doll’s house, Kezia broke in and said, ‘You’ve forgotten the lamp, Isabel’! “The lamp’s best of all” cried Kezia. But nobody paid attention. The lamp here symbolises the ‘working class’. These lamps are the sacrificial lights in the altar of the wealthy capitalists. According to Marx, these working classes or proletariat are individuals who sell their labour power for wages and who do not own the means of production. He argued that they were responsible for creating the wealth of a society, but ironically, are treated with contempt and disdain by society.
Innocence vs Experience:
Kezia decides to make friends with the Kelveys because she has not been so far indoctrinated with the class consciousness which seem to have corrupted her older sisters. Mansfield beautifully interweaves the contradicting forces of Kezia's innocence with the bigoted views of those who live in the world of experience. While the others keep reminding her of her high class status, Kezia insists on her thoughts of equality to the prejudiced views of the members of her social class. By doing so, she is metaphorically, trying to break the social hierarchy of class inequalities.
Discrimination based on Class:
Mansfield brings out the bitter truth that the discrimination between the wealthy ‘haves’ and the underprivileged ‘have nots’ was based solely on wealth and class. The fact that “the line had to be drawn somewhere” speaks volumes to the social hierarchy prevalent in society. At the end of the story, Aunt Beryl shouts at Kezia, ‘How dare you ask the little Kelveys into the courtyard?’ in her furious voice, adding, ‘Run away, children, run away at once. And don’t come back again!’ “Burning with shame, shrinking together, the Kelvey sisters huddled through the big courtyard and squeezed through the white gate.”
Through the portrayal of the predicament of the Kelveys, Mansfield brings out the class consciousness that was faithfully handed down by one generation to another, from parents to children and vice versa. Moreover, through the deft portrayal of the character of Kezia, Mansfield tries to challenge the existing social class consciousness which was wreaking havoc on the social fabric.