Katherine Mansfield's New Zealand stories on the surface appear to be innocent tales of an extended middle-class family early this century. On a hidden level, however, they represent the sad reality of a society which entraps and controls its individuals. In "Prelude" the themes are of entrapment within a patriarchal world, and less explicitly of identity and the fazade human beings adopt. The story appears to focus on Kezia, Linda, and Stanley but the hidden story is about Aunt Beryl and her avoidance of the conflicting truths by which she lives her life. In "The Doll's House" the surface story is about Kezia and our Else: a story of childhood innocence and class prejudice. But, again, the real story is about Aunt Beryl and the dichotomy between her clandestine sexual assignations and her social portrayal as proud moralist. In "Prelude" and "The Doll's House" Mansfield tells the stories from the point of view of the various characters. But it is Kezia as the quiet heroine and Aunt Beryl as the hidden focus, of both stories, and their contrasting recognition of, and connection to the symbols and themes central to these stories that make them two of the most important characters.
In "Prelude" Mansfield reveals her themes of entrapment and identity through the private reflection of her central characters. Linda is trapped by her husband and children, and is overpowered and weakened by them. She longs for escape and imagines herself fleeing in a boat: "They rowed far away over the top of the garden trees, the paddocks and the dark bush beyond. Ah, she heard herself cry: 'Faster! Faster!' " (53). Yet she knows there will be no escape except in her dreams and imagination.
Beryl, too, is dependent on, and trapped by Stanley. She is dependent on him financially: " 'How frightfully unreasonable Stanley is sometimes,' she thought, buttoning [her night-gown].