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The Little Girl Summary in English by Katherine Mansfield

The Little Girl by Katherine Mansfield About the Author

Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp (1888-1923) was a n prominent short story writer who was bom and brought up in colonial New Zealand and wrote under the pen name of Katherine Mansfield. At 19, Mansfield left New Zealand and settled in the United Kingdom, where she became a friend of writers such as D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. In 1917, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which led to her death at age 34. Master of the short story, Katherine Mansfield had much influence on the development of the short story as a form of literature. She evolved a distinctive prose style with many overtones of poetry. Her delicate stories, focused upon psychological conflicts, have an obliqueness of narration and a subtlety of observation that is reminiscent of Anton Chekhov. She was a prolific writer in the final years of her life. Much of her work remained unpublished till her death.

Author Name Katherine Mansfield
Born 14 October 1888, Wellington, New Zealand
Died 9 January 1923, Fontainebleau, France
Short Stories The Garden Party, Miss Brill, The Doll’s House
Siblings Leslie Heron Beauchamp, Jeanne Beauchamp
The Little Girl Summary by Katherine Mansfield
The Little Girl Summary by Katherine Mansfield

The Little Girl Introduction to the Chapter

In The Little Girl by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of family relationships. Taken from Mansfield’s Something Childish and Other Stories, the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator.

Kezia’s father is a busy man, so lost in his business that he has no time for his family. Being a very disciplined man, he is strict with Kezia to the point of harshness. He never displays any soft feelings for his little daughter, nor does he pet her for a while. All he does is give her a perfunctory kiss rather than a loving one. His presence at home frightens Kezia and she is relieved when he goes off to work. Kezia, who is able to speak without stuttering to everyone else, stutters in her father’s presence. Yet, in spite of all, Kezia’s father had a loving heart and is concerned about his daughter’s welfare.

The Little Girl Summary in English

Katherine Mansfield’s story The Little Girl is the story of a young girl, Kezia, and her relationship with her domineering father. His stem behaviour shakes his little daughter’s faith in him, and also in herself, to such an extent that she develops a strong dislike for him; to her he is a figure to be feared and avoided. She feels relieved when he leaves for his job every morning. His goodbye kiss seems too casual and perfunctory to her.

In the evening, when he returns home, Kezia hears him ask for his tea and the paper and give instructions in a loud voice. As the whole household rushes around to do his bidding, her mother asks Kezia to take off her father’s shoes. The girl is so terrified of him that, much to his annoyance, she stutters while answering his casual queries. Interestingly, Kezia’s speech is normal when she talks to other people; it is only his sternness that she finds so intimidating that she cannot bring herself to speak properly in his presence. To Kezia, her father, a tall man of few words, is a giant with big hands, a big neck and a big mouth.

Kezia’s grandmother tries to make efforts to improve Kezia’s relationship with her parents by telling her to talk nicely to them when they are relaxing on Sunday afternoons. But little Kezia always finds her mother absorbed in reading the newspaper and father sleeping on the sofa in their drawing-room. As he sleeps, Kezia sits on a stool and waits for him to wake up, looking at him, wide-eyed in her fear, until he wakes up, stretches, and asks the time — then looks at her, saying in an irritated tone, “Don’t stare so, Kezia. You look like a little brown owl.”

One day, Kezia’s grandmother suggests that she should make a pin-cushion to present to her father on his birthday. Kezia gets a yellow silk piece, stitches it on three sides. Now she needs something to stuff it with. She finds some very fine papers that she finds on the bed-table in her Mother’s room. She tears these papers into small bits before stuffing them into her pin-cushion and stitching up the fourth side.

That night, there is a lot of commotion in the house; her father’s great speech for the Port Authority cannot be found. Rooms are searched; servants questioned. Finally Mother comes into Kezia’s room and asks her if she has seen some papers that had been kept on a table in her room. Kezia owns up to her innocent mistake and the poor child is dragged down to the dining-room where her father is pacing up and down anxiously. When mother explains everything to him, he asks the scared girl to confirm her wrong-doing. She stutters a scared ‘no’ in a whisper. However, her angry father is not in a forgiving mood. He asks the grandmother to put Kezia to bed that instant and the child lies alone in her bed crying.

A little later, her father comes to Kezia’s room with a ruler. She screams and tries to hide under the bedclothes, but he pulls her out and orders her to hold out her hands so as to be taught a lesson not to touch someone else’s things. She tries to reason that it is for his birthday but he does not listen and hits her little pink palms with the ruler. The beating leaves deep scars on Kezia’s mind. From then on, she puts both her hands behind her back whenever she sees her father.

One day, Kezia sees her neighbours – the children in the Macdonald family – playing with their father. The Macdonalds are an exuberant, lively, playful family. Looking through the vegetable garden-wall, Kezia sees the five children playing with their father, turning a hose at him and the father tickling the children. When compared with her scary father who never played with her, Kezia sees the love between father and children next door and she observes that Mr Macdonald is playful, jolly, and liberal unlike her own father who is extremely strict. This leads her to reach the conclusion that all fathers are not alike.

Days pass and one day, when her mother is ill and has to be hospitalised, Kezia’s opinion about her father changes drastically. Grandmother accompanies Kezia’s mother to hospital and Kezia is alone in the house with their cook, Alice. Daytime is fine but when Alice put Kezia to bed at night, the child is terrified to be alone. She is afraid of the nightmares, for grandmother is not there to take her into her bed and comfort her grandmother as always. Alice cautions her not to scream and wake her father at night.

That day, Kezia again has the horrible dream again and she wakes up shivering and crying for her grandmother. However, she sees her father beside her bed with a candle in his hand. On learning that she is scared because of her terrible dream, her father takes her in his arms and carries her to his room. He tucks her in his bed and makes her sleep close to him. He is so tired that he goes off to sleep earlier than her. Little Kezia looks closely at her father and realises that he is not the giant that she had thought him to be. He may not pamper her like Mr Macdonald because he works harder than him. She lays her head on his heart and realises he has a big heart full of warmth and Care.

The Little Girl Title

The title of the story The Little Girl is apt because Katherine Mansfield wants to accentuate the idea that the story is about Kezia. The title highlights the fact that the girl is rather young and small; this makes her father’s size and behaviour appear larger and more frightening to her. The title is effective as the author shows the relationship between Kezia and her father and how she is affected by him. She is afraid of her father. He wants her to be obedient, disciplined, and organized but all she wants is his love and his company. She lacks self confidence and doesn’t feel free to talk to him. The little girl is so scared of him that she stutters in his presence. In fact, all the episodes in the story describe the experiences, opinions and observations made by Kezia. Her views, not just about her father, but also her mother, her grandmother, their cook Alice, and their neighbours, the Macdonalds, let the reader know what a little girl thinks and how she feels regarding the people around her.

The Little Girl Setting

The story is set in a town in England in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Kezia’s father goes to work in a carriage. He is a dominating male, who expects to be served and obeyed.

Kezia, her mother and the servants in the house are answerable to her father. The little girl barely engages with her father. She stutters when she talks to him as if she is in fear of him. However, things are beginning to change. Mr Macdonald plays with his children.

The Little Girl Theme

The main theme in The Little Girl is a young child’s point of view about her father. Children take time to understand the actions of their elders. Till such time, they may look upon their parents with negativity and fear. However, as kids grow older, their attitude towards their parents undergoes a change. The theme of this story is based on this process of change that makes little children notice the soft and caring heart of their overtly strict parents.

Another theme is the theme of control. Mansfield also highlights the control that the male exerts over the female. Kezia’s father is the only male in the household and Kezia, her mother and the servants in the house are answerable to her father. Kezia is dominated by her fear of her father and she stutters when she talks to him. Rather than having a loving relationship or a close bond with her father, she lives her life not only in fear of him but being wary of him too as she seems unsure of how he might treat her. Even though she’s a child, Kezia has duties to fulfil as soon as her father arrives home just like her mother and the servants in the house. At all times her father’s needs must be met. None of the female characters in the story have any independence due to having to accommodate each and every need (or whim) that Kezia’s father might have.

The Little Girl Message

The author’s message in the story is that although there is a very strong bond between parents and children, the bond must be nurtured otherwise children may develop fear and mistrust. It is not always easy for children to understand the true motive behind the stem actions of their parents. Parents may, at times, resort to strict punishment in order to prepare their little children for the hardships of adult life. As a result, children may view them as being harsh and frightening and may develop negativity. Therefore, the story gives a strong message to both the children and parents. Children should trust their parents and the parents should understand that fear and physical punishment can leave emotional scars.

The Little Girl Characters


Kezia, the protagonist of the story The Little Girl, is a young girl. Though we do not know her exact age it can be assumed from the title of the story, and her behaviour that she is still very young, possibly not more than four or five.

She is an emotional and sensitive girl, deeply affected by her father’s disciplinarian attitude. She is afraid of him because she finds him large, loud and frightening. To the little girl he is a figure to be feared and avoided. Every morning before going to work he comes into her room and gives her a casual kiss, to which she responds with “Goodbye, Father”. And there is a glad sense of relief when she hears the noise of the carriage growing fainter and fainter down the long road! She is so scared that she stammers in his presence, although she doesn’t do that with the others.

This behaviour of Kezia is typical of a young girl. She sees her father as the boss of the family who must be served properly all the time. So, she feels relieved when he leaves for work every morning.

A timid child, Kezia goes down to the drawing-room when her grandmother sends her there to have a “nice talk with Father and Mother”, but the little girl sits on a stool, gravely watching her father with apprehensive eyes until he wakes up and stretches, and tells her, “Don’t stare so, Kezia. You look like a little brown owl.”

Kezia is obedient. Though she is very afraid of her father, she slowly slips down the stairs, and more slowly still across the hall, and pushes opin the drawing-room door to take off her father’s boots when her mother tells her to.

However, so great is her fear of her father that sometimes she even thinks that there should not have been any fathers in this world. She is envious, too, when she compares herself to other children, like the Macdonalds’ children. She is pained to observe that her father does not pamper her like Mr Macdonald does as he plays with his.

Kezia is innocent but impulsive. She makes a pin-cushion for her father as his birthday present but innocently picks up his important papers as stuffing for the pin-cushion. Impulsively, she tears those papers without seeking permission and hence gets into serious trouble.

Kezia quick to observe her father’s affection for herbon the night she is alone at home with him and is terrified by her recurrent nightmare. She feels happy when her father protectively takes her to his bed and comforts her. Her distrust for him changes into appreciation for his hard work. She admires his big heart and discovers her love for him. She changes from a resentful and frightened girl to an understanding and affectionate daughter.

Kezia’s Father

Kezia’s father displays two divergent characteristics in the story. Initially, he appears as a domineering, head of the family and demands complete obedience from other members. He is so distant and aloof, that Katherine Mansfield does not give him a name—we know him only as Kezia’s father, quite unlike the jolly, friendly Mr Macdonald. This could partly be because Father is seen mostly through the eyes of the little girl.

Physically, he is a figure to be feared and avoided. He has a loud voice, wears spectacles. He looks at the little girl in a terrifying way. He appears so big and terrifying to the little girl—his hands and his neck, especially his mouth when he yawns. Thinking about him alone was like thinking about a giant.

Father is a busy and hardworking man. He seems to have an important job and sometimes has to deliver speeches – as his great speech to the Port Authority—so he is often preoccupied. Every morning before going to work he comes into Kezia’s room and gives her a casual kiss. Thus, despite his preoccupation, he still has time to kiss her daughter goodbye each morning. He could be tired with his work, too. For on Sunday afternoons when Grandmother sends Kezia down to the drawing-room to have a “nice talk with Father and Mother”, Kezia finds him stretched out on the sofa, his handkerchief on his face, his feet on one of the best cushions, sleeping soundly and snoring.

An authoritative man, Father wants his entire household to be at his beck and call. As soon as he returns home in the evening, he gives orders, “Bring my tea into the drawing-room… Hasn’t the paper come yet? Mother, go and see if my paper’s out there—and bring me my slippers.” Instead of taking off his shoes himself, he makes Kezia do it for him.

He is not a very perceptive person and is so strict with his daughter that the poor girl stutters in his presence.

He does not understanding his fear of her and mocks her stutter by copying her; “You d-d-don’t know? If you stutter like that Mother will have to take you to the doctor.” He does not realise Kezia is so scared of him, she feels relieved when he leaves for work in the morning. This severe aspect of his personality is highlighted even more when he punishes Kezia with a ruler. He fails to understand the innocent emotions of his daughter who accidentally damages his papers.

However, the positive aspect of his persona surfaces when he takes care of his little girl in the absence of the women of the household. He not only carries her in his arms to his room but also tucks her comfortably in his bed. He asks her to rub her feet with his legs to make them warm. This reveals he loves his daughter dearly.

Kezia’s Grandmother

Kezia’s Grandmother comes across as a mature and understanding person with the wisdom of age. She does not interfere in any matters of the household and simply provides background support. When Kezia’s father punishes Kezia with a ruler, Grandmother soothes her hurt by wrapping her in a shawl and rocking her in a chair clinging her to her soft body. She realises this is a delicate issue and parents must discipline their children in a way they see fit.

She does not question the authoritarian attitude of her son. She also realises Kezia is afraid of her father. So as a wise elder, she urges her young granddaughter to make efforts to bond with her parents. She advises Kezia to talk nicely to her parents when they are relaxing on Sunday afternoons. When Father beats Kezia, it is grandmother who tries first to reason with her son and then consoles and comforts Kezia.

Grandmother’s supportive character can also be seen when she accompanies her daughter-in-law to the hospital. We also learn that she soothes Kezia whenever she has a nightmare and takes her into her bed. Hence, Grandmother is an important character even though she remains mostly in the background.

Kezia’s Mother

Kezia’s Mother is not at all a strong character. She is physically weak, too, and in the end has to be rushed off to the hospital. We do not hear much of her except for when Father returns home. She looks to his comforts and caters to his needs. She ensures he gets his paper, his slippers and his tea.

Mother is not a very observant or understanding person. She does not notice, or she ignores the fact that Kezia is so scared of her father that she stutters in his presence. She calls out to her to take her father’s shoes off. She does not really notice when Kezia comes to sit with them in the drawing room on Sunday afternoons but continues to read.

Mother is severe, though not as strict as Father. She screams at Kezia and drags her down when she leams it is Kezia who has tom up her father’s papers without bothering about her husband’s wrath. However, Kezia is not as scared of her as she is of her father.

Kezia’s mother comes across as a very unapproachable, aloof figure, quite unlike a loving mother a young girl desires and needs. Perhaps her ill-health and her strict and domineering husbands demands leave her with very little room to pay the desired attention to her daughter.

The Little Girl Summary Questions and Answers

Question 1.
Why was Kezia scared of her father?
Kezia’s father was a busy man and had little time for the little girl. Being a very disciplined man, he was strict with Kezia as well and she would at times get harsh words of scolding and physical punishment from him. He never displated any soft feelings for his little daughter nor did he play with her like Mr Macdonald. All he did was giving her a perfunctory kiss rather than a loving one. Moreover, he was a large man, and his size, too, terrified the little girl. So scared was Kezia of him that she felt relieved when he was gone from home.

Question 2.
Who were the people in Kezia’s family?
There were four people in Kezia’s family – her father who was very strict, her mother who was stem and aloof, her soft-hearted and loving grandmother and little Kezia herself.

Question 3.
What was Kezia’s father’s routine before going to office and after coming back in the evening?
Before going to office, Kezia’s father would come to her room, give her a perfunctory kiss and leave for work. He would return in the evening and in a loud voice ask for his tea, the papers and his slippers to be brought into the drawing-room. He would wait for Kezia to help him take off his shoes and exchange a few words with Kezia.

Question 4.
What was Kezia’s routine when Father returned from office?
When Father returned home from office, mother would tell Kezia to come downstairs and take off her father’s shoes. She would also be told to take the shoes outside. Father would ask her a couple of questions and she would stutter out her replies. He would order her to put his teacup back on the table and then she would make good her escape from his presence.

Question 5.
What was Father’s and Kezia’s morning routine?
Before going to his office, Kezia’s father would come to Kezia’s room and give her a perfunctory kiss. She would respond with “Goodbye, Father”. Since she was afraid of him, she always felt relieved after his departure.

Question 6.
Why did Kezia go slowly towards the drawing-room when mother asked her to come downstairs?
Kezia was afraid of her dominating father. He always scolded her for one thing or the other and did not display any soft feelings or affection for his little daughter. So frightened was she of him that she went very slowly towards the drawing-room when she was asked to come downstairs to take off his shoes.

Question 7.
Why was Father often irritated with Kezia?
Kezia was very scared of her father. She stuttered when he spoke to her. Also, the terrified expression on her face irritated him. In his presence she wore an expression of wretchedness. He felt that with such an expression, she seemed as if she were on the verge of suicide.

Question 8.
What was unusual about Kezia’ stuttering?
Kezia was able to speak without stuttering to everyone in the household but her father. In her father’s formidable presence she could barely speak and she stuttered as she attempted to speak to him.

Question 9.
Why did Kezia stutter while speaking to Father?
Kezia’s father’s had a loud and domineering personality and he frequently frequent rebuked her for her behaviour and appearance. His constant criticism and scolding shook her self-confidence. Moreover, his large size frightened her. Though Kezia tried her best to please him, she found herself tongue-tied while talking to him. This made her stutter in his presence.

Question 10.
Why did Kezia feel that her father was like a giant?
Kezia felt that her father was like a giant because he had very big hands and neck. His mouth seemed big especially when he yawned. He had a loud voice and would often call out orders. In addition, his stem and cold behaviour made the little girl think of him as a giant.