The Singing Lesson: Story Summary & Analysis

The story line / plot summary

The Singing Lesson, written by Katherine Mansfield, is all about a surprising day of a music teacher’s life. Taken from Katherine’s ‘The Garden Party and Other Stories’ collection, it’s a short story written in third person from an unknown narrator’s perspective.

Miss Meadows, a music teacher, receives a letter from her fiancé which states quite plainly that Basil, her fiancé, isn’t ready to marry her and feels that the marriage would fill him with disgust. The word “disgust” is scratched lightly and written above it is the word “regret”. Naturally she’s filled with despair, anger & sadness. And due to her bad mood she sees everyone and everything in a negative light. Her usual calm and cheery demeanor turns gloomy and angry that day and this change doesn’t go unnoticed by her students.

During the lesson she’s rather harsh with her students. She tells them that today they would be practicing a lament, without any expression at first. Each stanza, each word, each breath seems like a sob or groan and lament to her gloomy mind. Then she tells them that they must feel the despair, the pain and the sorrow in order to perform the piece perfectly. Though the way she tells them so is not that simple. They are rather frightened by the sudden change in her behavior.

During the lesson she’s informed by another colleague that Basil, her fiancé, has sent a telegram for her. Her first thought is that Basil has committed suicide! Yes, you read that right. It’s because the school has a rule; telegram can be sent to the workers during working hours only in case of death or emergency situation. But in the telegram Basil had asked her to ignore the first letter and that he had bought the hat-stand which they had been thinking of lately. In short, the marriage is happening. The content of the telegram definitely lights up her mood and she’s back with her usual cheery demeanor.

She returns and continues her class, now practicing a cheerful song, singing with expressions, more loudly and cheerfully than any other student.