Characterisation of Lil and Else Kelvey

“The Doll’s House” by Katherine Mansfield introduces readers to quite a few characters, but not all of them are relevant for the way the action unfolds.

Lil and Else Kelvey can be seen as the protagonists of the short story. Even if they do not appear from the very beginning and are only introduced in the middle of the short story, they are the protagonists because they become the target receivers of a very important lesson at the end of the story.

Outer characterisation

Their outer characterisation presents them as being the poorest girls in school and the daughters of a “hardworking little washerwoman” and of a man who is said to be in prison. Because they are so poor, they do not afford being dressed nicely; they only wear what their mother gets from the people she works for. Here is how Lil Kelvey is depicted:


Inner characterisation

The inner characterisation of the two girls shows that Else is very close to her sister and that she is very shy, rarely addressing others. Out of the two sisters, we get the feeling that the narrator prefers Else, as the endearing appellative “our Else” indicates. In fact, “our Else” is repeated 13 times in the short story, showing how feeble and delicate Else actually is.

In school, the two Kelvey sisters “knew better than to come anywhere near the Burnells”, something that shows the girls know their place and prefer avoiding mixing with the rich. Also, we later find out that the two girls are forbidden to approach the Burnell sisters: “Lil gasped, then she said, “Your ma told our ma you wasn’t to speak to us.””

What is more, many of the rich children in their school are also forbidden to talk to the Kelvey sisters because they are poor. Sadly enough, even their teacher seems to discriminate against them:

Many of the children, including the Burnells, were not allowed even to speak to them. They walked past the Kelveys with their heads in the air, and as they set the fashion in all matters of behavior, the Kelveys were shunned by everybody. Even the teacher had a special voice for them, and a special smile for the other children when Lil Kelvey came up to her desk with a bunch of dreadfully common-looking flowers.


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