The Woman at the Store

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The Woman At The Store is a 1912 short story by Katherine Mansfield. It was first published in Rhythm in Spring 1912 under the penname of Lili Heron.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Jo, Jim and the narrator are riding horses, then they stop at a store where Jim went four years ago, joking that a blue-eyed blonde lives there. There they are greeted by a woman who appears to be mentally unstable and disheveled with missing teeth. They get an embrocation from the store to treat a wound on the horse, they ask her if they can stay in the nearby field at first she declines then she agrees she later suggests giving them dinner and at the part she eventually lets them stay for the night in the store. Jo and Jim joke about the woman referring to how she knows 'how to kiss one hundred and twenty-five different ways'.

The Narrator bathes in the river.

They discover that the woman has attempted to make herself look pretty by putting on rouge and a different dress. Jo has combed back his hair, shaved, and changed. They start to get drunk and Jo and The Woman start 'kissing feet' under the table, slowly growing closer as they get more intoxicated. The Woman's daughter claims to be drawing a nude picture of the Narrator, saying she watched her bathing earlier. The Narrator is unsettled but the picture is not revealed.

As she gets more drunk The Woman reveals that her husband often beats her, forces sex on her, goes away often shearing for months at a time and that she is alone and isolated living in poverty. She then leaves and comes back and then goes off again. Her daughter threatens to draw the picture she's not allowed to and gets a smack and a stern warning from her mother.

Jim and the Narrator stay in the store room with The Woman's daughter. She then does a drawing of a woman pointing a gun at a man and a picture of a grave, hinting that her mother killed her father. Jim and the Narrator see the drawing, stay up all night in shock, and then leave in the morning without Jo who has spent the night in The Woman's bed.

Characters[edit]

  • Jo
  • Jim
  • The narrator
  • The woman at the store. She was a barmaid until she got married. She justifies why she killed her husband though she does not confess it.
  • The woman's young daughter. She has been neglected by her mother, and is disliked by the other three characters ("Shut your mouth," said the woman. [...] "Good thing that's broke loose," said Jo. "I've 'ad it in me 'ead for three days."). She likes drawing, and is a generally unruly child: she plays in the dirt, picks earwax from her ears and spies on the narrator whilst she is bathing. She is also distressed at having to live with her mother who killed her father.

Major themes[edit]

  • Loneliness
  • Isolation in the New Zealand country side
  • Women's rights and how they were abused
  • Child-bearing for women, even if they weren't suited to motherhood

References to actual history[edit]

Literary significance[edit]

The text is written prior to Mansfield's shift to the modernist mode, with a linear narrative and conventional resolution in denouement. Because of this, Mansfield grew to dislike the story somewhat, and refused to have the story reprinted "par example" in her lifetime.[1]

External links[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Katherine Mansfield. "Explanatory notes". Selected Stories. Oxford World's Classics. ISBN 978-0-19-283986-2.