Katherine Mansfield's "Life of Ma Parker": Women's Plight
Katherine Mansfield's "Life of Ma Parker" presents the plight of Ma Parker as a working-class woman at the turn of the century, in terms of her position in the sphere of the family and in the sphere of society.
"Life of Ma Parker" is a story of a widowed charwoman. Like Miss Brill, Ma Parker is a very lonely woman, but their equally painful story is told quite differently, mainly because Mansfield supplies no background to account why Miss Brill's Sunday passes as it does. As the title of the story denotes, we receive the story of Ma Parker's life, which explains her current situation.
"As servant, wife, and mother, she's the generic British working-class female at the turn of the century - cowed by drudgery and burdened by loss. Her husband, a baker, died of 'white lung' disease, and those children who survived the high rate of infant mortality fell victim to other ills of the late-Victorian underclass: emigration, prostitution, poor health, worse luck" (Lohafer 475). At the present point in the story, Ma Parker arrives to work in the house of the literary gentleman after she buried the previous day her loving grandson, Lennie, who was the only ray of light in her dreary life.
According to Irigaray, "all the systems of exchange that organize patriarchal societies and all the modalities of productive work that are recognized, values, and rewarded in these societies are men's business....[t]he work force is this always assumed to be masculine, and 'products' are objects to be used, objects of transaction among men alone" (171). Ma Parker has to play the role of an object circulated among masculine employers as she has to support her children and herself. Ma begins working as early as the age of sixteen as a "kitching-maid" (143). Later on, "[w]hen that family was sold up she went as 'help' to a doctor's house, and after two years there, on the run from morning till... Continues...