The Singing Lesson: Summary and Analysis briefly discusses the plotline of the story. Having received a letter from her fiancé stating that their engagement was off, Miss Meadows enters her music class in the foulest of moods. As if to mirror the deep despair she felt in her heart, she asks the class to perform a lament as the first song. As the girls begin to sing in deeply mournful voices, Miss Meadows’ mind tries to figure out what could have led her fiancé, who only until a few days ago was excited about buying new furniture for their life together, to take the drastic step of calling off their engagement.
The news had come as a shock, and Miss Meadows was positively shaken. Now asking her girls to add more emotions and expressions into the lament, Miss Meadows began pondering over the implications of having her engagement to a man five years younger than her being called off. Unable to face the embarrassment, she would have to leave her school, for she couldn’t stand to meet her colleagues and students, who would all know that she had been deserted by her betrothed. Just then, Miss Meadows gets a call from her headmistress Miss Wyatt, who wants her to come into her room to read a telegram that had come for her. As telegrams could be sent during school hours only to convey bad news, Miss Meadows feared that her fiancé had committed suicide or something terrible to that effect. The telegram, however, bore happy news. Her fiancé was asking her not to pay heed to the previous letter, assuring her that their engagement was still on by informing her about the furniture he had bought for them. Full of hope, joy, and love, Miss Meadows goes back into her class, and this time she asks the girls to sing a happy song in warm, joyful voices. And as she conducts the class, her voice is the most glowing of all.
The Singing Lesson: Summary
In The Singing Lesson Summary, we will go over the events in the story.
A deeply despaired Miss Meadows walks down the corridors to the music hall amidst a throng of gleeful young girls fluttering by, talking amongst themselves. Her colleague, the Science Mistress, stops her and remarks on how cold the weather is. Being in the negative mind space that Miss Meadows was, everything irks her – especially the sweetness of the science mistress.
Miss Meadows assumes her place on the platform, and tapping on the brass music stand with her baton twice, she addresses the girls in front of her, asking them to remain silent. She could understand that the girls had caught on to her foul mood, but so despaired was Miss Meadows that what the girls thought of her was but of little consequence at that moment.
It is then that the reason behind Miss Meadows’ despair is revealed: a letter from her fiancé Basil stating that he wanted to call their engagement off. He had discovered that he was not a married man, so the idea of marriage filled him with regret. Miss Meadows could see that Basil had written “disgust” first and had struck the world off in favor of the more polite alternative, “regret.” This letter had such a negative impact on Miss Meadows that she did not even accept the yellow chrysanthemum flower from her favorite student, Mary Beazley – a ritual that had existed between the teacher and her pupil for a term and a half. Instead, she barked instructions at her and the rest of the students, asking them to sing a lament in beat and without expressions.
As Miss Meadows began conducting the woeful lament, full of mournful sighs and sobs, her mind wandered off to her fiancé’s fateful letter. The letter had struck her out of the blue, for just in his previous letter, Basil was talking about the furniture he wished to purchase for their life together. She wondered what could have led her fiancé to take such an extreme step so abruptly.
Coming back to the class, the music teacher then asks the girls to sing the lament again with expressions, urging them to use their imaginations and bring to the fore of their voices the sadness each word bore. As the girls began their singing, Miss Meadows pondered over how their engagement had been a miracle in the first place, with her being five years older than her handsome beau – so much so that the Science Mistress hadn’t believed it at first. Although the letter said that Basil loved her as much as it was possible for him to love a woman, Miss Meadows knew that he did not love her after all – not even to have cared enough to strike off “disgust” better so that she couldn’t have read it. Miss Meadows feared that she would now have to leave the school and go somewhere where nobody knew of her engagement – all to escape the embarrassment that comes with a broken engagement. She lacked the strength to face the world as a woman who had been betrayed in love.
At this point, a little girl walks into the music hall and lets Miss Meadows know that the headmistress wishes to see her in her room. Once inside the headmistress’s room, Miss Wyatt informs her of a telegram that had come in for her. Since telegrams were only sent to school for urgent bad news, Miss Meadows’ first thought was that Basil had committed suicide. Miss Wyatt told the music teacher that she hoped it wasn’t very bad news. And indeed, it wasn’t. The telegram was from Basil, but one that had some good news to deliver. He asked her beloved to pay no attention to the previous letter and informed her of the latest purchase he had made to add to their collection of new furniture.
Upon inquiring, when Miss Wyatt finds out that the telegram was no serious matter at all, she reminds Miss Meadows of the rule that dictated that telegrams could only be sent to teachers during school hours in case of bad news, such as news of a death, an accident, or an emergency. Buoyed up on hope, love, and joy and least bothered about Miss Wyatt’s remark about how a rule was flouted, Miss Meadows returns to the classroom and accepts her yellow chrysanthemum to hide the smile on her face. She then asks the class to sing a happy song, urging them to sound “warm, joyful, and eager.” And as the class sang, Miss Meadow’s voice sounded the strongest, glowing with deeply felt expressions of joy, for her engagement was back on at last.
The Singing Lesson: Analysis
In this The Singing Lesson analysis, we will delve deeper into the story and explore its many literary aspects.
Katherine Mansfield is well-known for capturing real human moments in her writing. In Singing Lesson, we find her doing the same with Miss Meadows. A tumultuous hour in the life of Miss Meadows, during which she conducts a music lesson while despairing over the loss of an engagement, has been portrayed wonderfully in this short story.
Although the short story employs the third-person narrative point of view, the omniscient narrator has ready access to the workings of Miss Meadow’s mind. This is achieved by employing the technique of the interior monologue. At different points in the story, the main narrative of a music class being held is interrupted by the interior monologues from Miss Meadows. It is through these monologues that we get insights into the mental state the music teacher was in – first despairing over the loss of an engagement and wondering if her fiancé really loves her and then thinking about how she would have to leave her school in order to avoid the embarrassment of everyone finding out that her engagement had been called off by her beau. The songs she asks her class to sing mirror the emotional state of Miss Meadows. The first song, a lament, perfectly reflects the pessimistic state of mind Miss Meadows is in, trying to make sense of her broken engagement. The second song, which was one of celebration, reflected the triumphant state the teacher was in after receiving a telegram from her boyfriend informing her that he still wished to get married.
The plot construction is a very simple one. The few events of the story are revealed through flashbacks and letters, and the main plotline deals more with the protagonist’s emotions as she reacts to the events. In real-time, the only events that take place are the Singing lessons – used to mirror Miss Meadows’ emotional state, and her receiving a telegram from her fiancé in her headmistress’s office.
The story’s central idea is to show how a person’s emotional state and mood can affect their actions and how they view the world. As Miss Meadows enters her class in deep despair, any gaiety around her is met with scorn. For example, she grimaced at her sweet colleague trying to make small talk with her and even got irritated by her joy. She was so consumed in pain she even refused to take from her favorite student the flower she had called her and was barking instructions at the girls in a foul mood. This goes on to show how, during times of crisis, the boundary between one’s internal world and the external world collapses, and the turmoil of the internal world begins to seep into our interaction with the external world. The singing lesson in the story perfectly captures this blurring of boundaries in the context of Miss Meadows.
The most notable aspect of Mansfield’s style in this story is how she elicited empathy from the readers for her protagonist. The descriptive and eloquent way in which Mansfield has described Miss Meadows’ mental state through interior monologues and her actions directly pulls the reader into the turmoil the main character is experiencing. We feel terrible for Miss Meadows as she grapples with the crushing reality of a broken engagement, and our despair is soon turned into joy when we find an elated Miss Meadows singing in a glowing voice, celebrating the fact that her wedding is still on.
The Singing Lesson: Symbolism
The setting is an important element in the short story, for it is in the setting that The Singing Lesson symbolism is nested. The school corridors are cold, symbolizing the coldness that has gripped Miss Meadows’ heart upon finding out that her fiancé wishes to call off their engagement. The willow tree outside the class with all its leaves gone, save for a few tiny ones wriggling like fishes caught on a line, is a symbol of the condition of Miss Meadows’ relationship, now drawing to a close after her fiancé discovered that he is not a “marrying man.” Even the rain outside is a symbol of the storm going on in Miss Meadows’ life.
Apart from the setting, the singing lesson that takes place in the story is, in itself, a symbol of the emotional state of Miss Meadows. When their teacher was in a state of despair, the class sang a song of lament, with the music mirroring her internal state. On the other hand, when Miss Meadows was jubilant upon finding out that her engagement to Basil was still intact, the song the class sang was one of jubilation, perfectly reflecting the state of elation Miss Meadows felt.
The Singing Lesson: Character Analysis
In The Singing Lesson Character Analysis, we will explore the protagonist, Miss Meadows, and her fiancé, Basil.
When designing the character of Miss Meadows, Katherine Mansfield has steered clear of the stereotype of the typical “old maid” and has given to us a woman who enjoys respect in her academic environment – something we know from the promptness with which her students obey her instructions. Miss Meadows is a strong character. Despite going through deep internal turmoil, she does not let it affect her sense of duty but shows up to take music classes when she gets betrayed by her fiancé. She uses her classes to channel the pain within by asking her students to sing a lament, echoing her emotional state. However, Miss Meadows is only human, and her internal turmoil influences how she interacts with the external world. Since the music teacher carried despair in her heart, her mental sphere is one brimming with negativity. She scorns the sweetness of her colleague, the Science Mistress, and speaks to her class, putting little effort into masking her foul mood. This shows Miss Meadows in a human light, as someone who is affected by life’s tribulations.
Basil makes no appearance in the story, and the readers get to know him from the one dreadful letter he sends to Miss Meadows and her memories of him. However, even this limited resource on Basil is enough to show him as a flaky man who has serious commitment issues and is unsure about what he wants. Out of the blue, he discovers that he is not a “marrying man” and even goes as far as to say that the thought of marriage fills him with disgust, which he later scratches and replaces with regret. However, after he writes to Miss Meadows to ignore his letter, calling it some feat of madness, this makes us think that not only is Basil non-committal, but he is also impulsive, making rash decisions and actions as per his moods and whims.
The Singing Lesson: Theme
Among all The Singing Lesson themes, the theme of marriage is the most important one. The protagonist of the story is a thirty-year-old woman who is engaged to a twenty-five-year-old man. This man, Basil, calls off their engagement without giving any concrete reason other than the fact that he found himself not to be a “marrying man.” This puts Miss Meadows in a state of despair, and she even begins to consider leaving her school so that she would not have to face the embarrassment of all her colleagues and students finding out that she got betrayed. This shows the importance of marriage in the life of a woman approaching thirty. So much of a woman’s worth came from the marriage that she would consider giving up a steady job just to avoid people seeing her as a failure. This story then shows how marriage became tied to a woman’s validation and sense of self, so much so that they would even take a flaky man in place of having no man at all.
Despair and how it affects people is another theme of the short story. All through the story, Miss Meadow’s despair upon her broken engagement is a prominent presence in the story, which is echoed through the setting and by the actions in the story. This story shows how despair can influence the mental atmosphere of a person and how they interact with the world.
The theme of appearance is another important theme explored in the story. How Miss Meadows appeared to the world was more important for her than her career and finding the right man. This is why when Basil called off their engagement, she was considering leaving her job to avoid being seen as a woman who had been left right before her wedding. This desire to appear in proper light in front of others made Miss Meadows pay no heed to the fact that her partner was non-committal and flaky, and she happily took him back when he showed signs of wanting to marry her again.
The Singing Lesson by Katherine Mansfield is a beautiful short story that depicts the ups and downs in the emotional state of a woman whose engagement got broken off and then got back on. The writer has used the emotions of the protagonist to influence the setting and the actions of the story. The narrative technique of employing interior monologues makes the story engaging and helps the reader form an intimate connection with the protagonist. The writing style is fluid, almost lyrical, making for a pleasant read.
Updated by Anjali Roongtaa on 18 April 2023
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