Write a note on the interior monologue of the main character as employed in Katherine Mansfield’s short story “The Singing Lesson”.
Interior monologue is a modern novelistic device in fictional narrative perfected by eminent literary figures. Katherine Mansfield is one of those literary doyens who artistically uses monologue in “The Singing Lesson” with a view to exploring the corridors of Miss Meadows’ psyche. The story is characterized by paucity of dialogue and much emphasis is laid on the inner workings of the soul of Miss Meadows. Quite important is, therefore, Miss Meadows’ gestures and expressions. All her inner turmoil is the after effect of a letter from her lover who declines to marry her or rather intends to break off their engagement. This is what induces a stormy gust of emotional turbulence in her. It is little by little reflected in her subsequent behaviour with her students at school.
Miss Meadows’ mental anguish is entangled with her professional life. The atmosphere of the school where she works is the theatre of the vivid drama of her personal turmoil. A subtle complex psychological study of her character is offered to us to peep into what storm is brewing in deep-seated anxious impulse of her psyche. The story is thus a good measure of how combative she is not to disclose her inner existential crisis. Such monologue is the stream of thought that constantly comes out in her expression. This is the lonesome woman’s inner spirit that is ravaged by the letter. We are aptly observant of her subterranean ego the upper surface of which is apparent in the phrases she uses while interacting with the students.
The story captures such mood and tempo of her spirit, and her momentary emotional flutter. Such restlessness pervades her being. A grievous mental wound she gets from her lover leaves a temporary scar on her external appearance. Her behaviour is no doubt an explication and main stuff of the tenuous plot of the story. A particular slice of life of the main protagonist is well integrated with the structure of monologue. With a third person narrative voice the expansiveness of Miss Meadows interior life is revealed:
With despair – cold, sharp despair— buried deep in her heart like a wicked knife
Such metaphorical statement is the key to Miss Meadows’ present state of mind. The science mistress wishes her “Good morning” commenting about the arrival of winter. No doubt, we observe in the voice of the science mistress a slight utterance prolonged by the drawl of vowel sound; the way of answering as is evident in the short sentence she utters, “It is rather sharp”, is rather blunt dispassionate snatch of expression, but at deeper level it creates the impression on us that arrival of the letter and its content is as sharp as the sharpness of a knife.
The abrupt change is perceptible even in nature as winter is approaching; it is as if Miss Meadows’ warmth of sunny spirit is gone; instead cold vapid spirit pervades her expression. It is through such subjective and sensory impression by which the objective reality is depicted. The writer uses such modernistic technique of impressionism.
Again, another way of expression “Silence, please! Immediately” is very much a sullen expression of her peevish temper that is not at all hushed up spirit of discontent. Her entire psychological unrest is observed in her quivering eyelids. The thought of the letter persistently ails her mind; in fact, she is totally preoccupied with the thought of split in her relationship with her lover:
I feel more and more strongly that our marriage would be a mistake.
Such recurrent thought of her lover plagues her inner being and is reflected in her interaction. The writer presents the quoted expression of her lover directly in the narrative to bring home the parallel stream of obsessive gloom in her inner psyche. Another quoted word that is extracted by her from the letter of her fiancé is “disgust”. This is the perception of her mind. She becomes fed-up with everything.
Even the atmosphere of the singing lesson in the classroom is disrupted. In course of the singing lesson she utters her lover’s name “Basil”. it is an example of repression of bottled-up emotion that she is hardly able to share. Time and again, the third person narrator and Miss Meadows’ monologue of agony trigger off the plot of the story. She instructs the girls to begin with page fourteen, A Lament. And furthermore, she insists on singing without any expression. It is symptomatically a lament of her private self.
We can feel to what extent she is persistently preoccupied and the words of the letter flash across her mind. The flashback of previous moments she had enjoyed with her lover go to and fro across the corridor of memory lane. Thus, a particular staggering moment of personal crisis churns up her morose mental state. Thus, the interior monologue is shown as an effective means of portraying the character of Miss Meadows in the story.