How has the author Katherine Mansfield successfully depicted the inner turmoil of Miss Meadows’ character in her short story “The Singing Lesson”?
One strikingly singular aspect of Miss Meadows’ character is her constant tug of war going on in her mind with her inner turmoil. It persistently plagues her mind as is well-exposed in the very beginning of the story and it continues up to the climax. All our eyes are intently fastened on her combative nature by which she continues her existential struggle not to reveal it in public. But all her efforts in this regard go in vain; she unconsciously reveals herself through her encounter with other staffs and students of her school. Her bottled-up stream of despair is let loose through her gesture and mannerism. Her inflexible rigidity ultimately succumbs to her utter dejection.
Never have we seen any inclination on her part to discuss it with others. The portrayal of her character is spun out to elaborate upon her mental anguish following the letter from her lover; it is, indeed, the letter of disheartening news of break-up with her lover. Life is not a simple tale of happiness. Rather it is for someone a sordid affair as is shown in the character of Miss Meadows. The writer resorts to many a metaphorical stance to express her deep-rooted loss of hope and aspiration:
With despair – cold, sharp despair- buried deep in her heart like a wicked knife
What is uppermost in the above-mentioned statement is the abyss of bottomless gloom in Miss Meadows’ character. The external appearance of the very ambience of the school stands opposed to the envelop of mental misery that wraps up Miss Meadows’ inner being. Quite artistically the gleeful excitement of the girls contrasts well with the insipid, morose mental state of Miss Meadows. Again, various corridors of her mental faculty appear to be totally gloomy along with cold corridors that led to the music hall.
The story is set in an autumn morning but Miss Meadows’ inner self experiences icy cold of winter. Such element of contrast between atmosphere and human mind is emphasized upon time and again throughout the story. All her mental agitation doubles up when the science mistress wished her good morning. The writer illuminates luridly the easy- going gait and posture of the Science Mistress while Miss Meadows appears despicably sharp and a bit rough and tumble in her posture. ‘’It is rather sharp ‘’ was the answer she replied in response to science mistress’ question. It is a complete grimace that is noticeable in her expression. All her mental constitution is thus made of a bundle of wrecked-up nerves. All her demeanour goes through a turbulent emotional state of mind.
All this personal crisis makes her a denizen of bleak, dreary climate. Her refinement and delicacy of mind fades away. She remains apathetic to Mary Beazley, favourite student of hers, who greets her with a beautiful chrysanthemum. She merely expresses a customary greeting without any show of cordial emotion. ‘’I am not a marrying man” is the most troubling sentence of Basil’s letter that haunts her mind. It is her mental predicament that exerts a long-lasting impact on her. Though she is a music teacher, she loses the jovial rhythm of life; instead, it turns into a lament of life. The monotonous gloomy rhythm possesses her mind. Quite surprisingly she chooses a lament as a subject matter of her singing lesson. Thus, the all-knowing narrator deepens the intensity of her gloom by keeping in mind the mournful tune of the lament. She somehow makes it clear before her students that no expression is needful at all to sing a lament. It is a symbolic aspect that her inner turmoil gets integrated into the music of the lesson.
Both the music and her turmoil run parallel to each other. The storm of her mind bemoans the lamentation expressed by those mournful voices. What a fine subterfuge on the part of the artist to embody the unspoken agony into a vociferous lament by the help of those girls who are nothing but dramatic projection of choric singers lamenting the tragic gloom of her life:
Good Heavens, what could be more tragic than that lament!
The content of the letter has always been alive in the deepest core of her mind. It is a catalyst that is instrumental in ushering the collapse of romantic edifice that the spinster made in her dream. It is also important to note that reality dawns upon her:
Every note was a sigh, a sob, a groan of awful mournfulness.
It is a swan song of her amatory life. She finds no confidante to overcome her burden of emotional duress. No one is there to share her pang of heavy sorrow. Beneath her rigid exterior she is a tortured soul engrossed in the gloom of life.
Later, to her utter surprise, she gets a telegram from Basil informing her that the letter was a mistake and he was ready to marry her. Now, with the new-fangled hope and aspiration, she gets over the inner turmoil and returns to her usual self.
O the wings of hope, of love, of joy, Miss Meadows sped back to the music hall …