In Rudyard Kipling’s short story “Mary Postgate“ Mary is a woman who always “prided herself on a trained mind, which "did not dwell on these things." Wynn, on the other hand, holds little back and shows compassion for no one. Mary typifies his complete opposite, for even when she has a reason for anger or sadness, she subdues her feelings. She demonstrates this constraint when Miss Fowler speaks to her after Wynn’s death:
"As I told you, we old people slip from under the stroke. It's you I'm afraid for. Have you cried yet?
"I can't. It only makes me angry with the Germans."
"That's sheer waste of vitality," said Miss Fowler. "We must live till the war's finished."
However, throughout the story, Mary begins to exemplify more of Wynn’s traits. The death of the young girl, Edna Gerritt, greatly affects her, and she feels the anger that many people already have toward the Germans. Still, she tries to restrain this feeling by not focusing on it:
She frowned a little to herself, the large nostrils expanded uglily from time to time as she muttered a phrase which Wynn who had never restrained himself before his women-folk, had applied to the enemy. "Bloody pagans! They are bloody pagans. But, 'she continued, falling back on the teaching that had made her what she was, "one mustn't let one's mind dwell on these things."
Finally, Mary is confronted with a German who has fallen from an airplane and landed in her backyard. Face to face with the enemy, the anger once again rises and this time she is less able to control her emotions. As the soldier as repeatedly for a doctor, she loses her patience and retorts:
"Stop that!" said Mary, and stamped her foot. "Stop that, you bloody pagan!" The words came quite smoothly and naturally. They were Wynn's own words, and Wynn was a gentleman who for no consideration on earth would have torn little Edna into those vividly coloured strips and strings. But this thing hunched under the oak-tree had done that thing.
Mary becomes increasingly like Wynn, taking on his sayings. However, as she directly faces the soldier who she believes was responsible for Edna’s death, she feels justified in using the harsh language. She no longer subscribes to her motto of not dwelling upon things when those “things“ become immediate in her life. It easy to claim a certain attitude when one lives removed from certain difficulties and realities. This shows how easily people can throw away the values and doctrines they live by when they are faced with life’s circumstances up close.
1. The narrator says, “and Wynn was a gentleman who for no consideration on earth would have torn little Edna into those vividly coloured strips and strings. But this thing hunched under the oak-tree had done that thing.“ How does this line, both in terms of language and content, show a difference in the portrayal of German soldiers versus the portrayal of British soliders?
2. At the end of the story, as Mary waits for the soldiers death, the narrator says:
She ceased to think. She gave herself up to feel. Her long pleasure was broken by a sound that she had waited for in agony several times in her life. She leaned forward and listened, smiling. There could be no mistake. She closed her eyes and drank it in.
What significance does this description have on how the reader views Mary at the end of the story? Why does Kipling include these details?
4. 4) For what audience does Kipling write this story? Furthermore, for what purpose?
Last modified 4 May 2010