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Leila from “Her First Ball” by Katherine Mansfield Essay

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Updated: Oct 15th, 2021

“Her First Ball” by Katherine Mansfield is a beautiful short story published in 1921. It describes the emotions of a country girl named Leila when she goes through her first experience of dancing with men. The ball serves as an occasion to expose the innocent excitement of a young girl when she enters her life dominated by men. When it is seen through the fantasy world of Leila, the story attains the level of a fairy-tale. Leila is just opening up in her life, and the thrill and anxiety which an ordinary event like a ball produces in her is the essence of the delicate story written by Mansfield. This paper gives a brief analysis of the character of Leila.

“Her First Ball” is to be taken as Leila’s first exposure to her society. The way she reacts to the new situation enables the writer to show it as the emotional reaction of any girl placed in such a situation. The story begins with a description of her loneliness in society. She has no brother. Therefore, she hardly got a chance in her life to experience the emotional responses of a young man. She says, “Our nearest neighbor was fifteen miles” (Mansfield).

It shows how much she was cut off from the social life which a girl living in towns enjoys or experiences. The very journey to the ballroom in a cab with the Sheridan girls gave her the excitement of a ball: “the bolster on which her hand rested felt like the sleeve of an unknown young man’s dress suit; and away they bowled, past waltzing lamp-posts and houses and fences and trees”. In other words, Mansfield makes it abundantly clear that Leila is a very inexperienced girl. This serves as a great contrast to the scene in the ballroom where she dances with a middle-aged man.

Leila represents the female point of view. It is through her that the readers get the female fashion, age, customs, and traditions. Catherine describes very minutely the way the ladies fix their looks in their room before the ball begins. This is what attracts Leila too. “She was only at the beginning of everything”. Her struggle to get tamed with the dance as it proceeds cannot go unnoticed. Only she finds that the floor is slippery. The dance, thus, becomes a metaphor for learning to balance her on the slippery ground of life. The writer says that “she floated away like a flower that is tossed into a pool”.

As the readers continue to enjoy the music and the sight of the rhythmic movements of life in the form of dance by young men and women, an elderly man is introduced. He serves as a contrast to the vitality of life, to remind them that dullness and old age is after all that finally awaits everyone. Leila suddenly asks herself, “Was this first ball only the beginning of her last ball, after all?” Confusion steps in and “At that the music seemed to change; it sounded sad, sad; it rose upon a great sigh”.

The middle-aged man made her frustrated. “She wanted to be home or sitting on the veranda listening to those baby owls”. In short, Mansfield succeeds in showing innocence and the loss of innocence through the character of Leila. There is a nostalgic yearning on the part of the writer to go back to her youth and experience again the sensations of Leila. The same longing is what the readers also experience

Leila’s Cinderella-like experience, seen as she goes through “Her First Ball”, carries in it emotions which only a female writer like Catherine Mansfield can reveal. On the surface, the whole episode looks like the silliness of women’s youth. However, how enthralling is the new experience as one opens up in life is the theme of the story. It also reveals how sad it is to see when youth fades into old age. Leila has excellently represented her countryside and stood as a contrast to the experience in life.

Reference

Mansfield, Catherine. “”. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Leila from "Her First Ball" by Katherine Mansfield." October 15, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/leila-from-her-first-ball-by-katherine-mansfield/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Leila from "Her First Ball" by Katherine Mansfield'. 15 October.

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