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Indeed, she sees the world as if it were a play, and she sees herself as part of the play, with her own part to follow. For Miss Brill, the knowledge that she is part of the play is comforting and connects her to the others in the park, giving her and them a shared awareness that she still does not quite understand. The way the two she sees as the hero and the heroine talk about her, though, shatters her comfortable existence and brings back the unpleasantness she has only been able to stave off for a time.
In Mansfield's story "Je ne parle pas francais," which means "I do not speak French," Raoul Duquette is the central character and also the narrator. His word is suspect, and the author treats her spokesperson here in an ironic manner. He starts by claiming he is a true Parisian, though the title alone suggests that this is false. To Raoul, he is authentic because he is a gigolo and a poseur. He also serves as the embodiment of the Romantic perception of the artist, a dilettante who sits in a cafe and wiles away the day in idleness, presumably while creating his masterpiece in his mind. The books he has written, though, suggest that his talent is largely fiction, books called Wrong Doors, False Coins, and Left Umbrellas. The reader is privy to Raoul's thoughts about himself and his reactions to others, and he shows a degree of confusion about who he really is and what he means to other people.
Raoul staves off the unpleasant with his own particular illusions about himself and his work, and his interactions with Dick and Mouse show how is illusions sustain him while Dick sings and Mouse cries. Raoul also cries, but he does so when under the influence and when seeking to show an affinity for Dick and for the song Dick is signing, while Mouse is in real despair about her life and the unpleasantness she faces. For Raoul, none of this persists as he returns to his habit of going to cafes and continuing his pretensions.
In "The Fly," old Mr. Woodfield tries to avoid the unpleasant realities of human existence by keeping to his routine, established over a lifetime. He continues to visit his old office once a week even though he is retired. Mr. Woodfield's life has become very unpleasant since he has had a stroke, and in truth, visiting the office often makes him feel even more how he has lost his strength and his health when compared to his old boss, still healthy and plump and working. The boss also has his routine for keeping away the unpleasant things of life. He has a picture of his son in his office but is quite upset at talking about the boy, who died and is buried in Belgium, a victim of the Great War. Mr. Woodfield's son is buried in the same cemetery, and both graves were visited by his daughters, which is what he wants to tell his old boss.
In this story, the story shifts its point-of-view from Mr. Woodfield to the boss. He cried when he learned of his son's death, but since then, he has not been able to do so and believes something is wrong with him. The story shows how certain unpleasant things become only vague memories as the individual cannot keep them fully in mind at all times.
Death is depicted in this fashion, and while the death may be devastating, human beings necessarily go on without letting the pain cripple them entirely. This is symbolized in the story by the death of the fly on the boss's desk. This death is caused by the boss, who is distressed by what he has done for a moment, but who a second later cannot remember that feeling or even what caused it: "For the life of him he could not remember" (358). This story is more explicit about what may be true for all the other characters in the earlier stories, that people ultimately avoid the unpleasant realities of human existence by simply forgetting them, not intentionally, but because that is the way the mid works.
Mansfield, Katherine. Selected Stories. D.M. David (ed.). Oxford: Oxford…[continue]
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