store room

The Woman at the Store

The Woman At The Store is a 1912 short story by Katherine Mansfield. It was first published in Rhythm in Spring 1912 under the penname of Lili Heron.

Plot summary

Jo, Hin and the narrator are riding horses, then stop at a store where Hin went four years back, joking that a blue-eyed blonde lives there. There they are greeted by a woman who appears to be mentally confused and dishevelled with missing teeth. They get an embrocation from the store to treat a wound on the horse, then she suggests giving them dinner and eventually staying for the night. Jo and Hin joke about the woman referring to how she knows 'how to kiss one hundred different ways'.

The Narrator bathes in the river.

They discover that the woman has attempted to make herself look pretty by putting on rouge and a different dress. Jo has combed back his hair, shaved, and changed. They start to get drunk and Jo and The Woman start 'kissing feet' under the table, slowly growing closer as they get more intoxicated. The Woman's daughter claims to be drawing a nude picture of the Narrator, saying she watched her bathing earlier. The Narrator is unsettled but the picture is not revealed.

As she gets more drunk The Woman reveals that her husband often beats her, forces sex on her, goes away often shearing for months at a time and that she is alone and isolated living in poverty. She then leaves and comes back and then goes off again. Her daughter threatens to draw the picture she's not allowed to and gets a smack and a stern warning from her mother.

Hin and the Narrator stay in the store room with The Woman's daughter. She then does a drawing of a woman pointing a gun at a man and a picture of a grave, intimating that her mother killed her father. Hin and the Narrator see the drawing, stay up all night in shock and then leave in the morning without Jo who has spent the night in The Woman's bed.


  • Jo
  • Hin (a Māori name, this was changed to Jim by John Middleton Murry (Mansfield's second husband) in the edition of this story that appeared in Something Childish and Other Stories).
  • The narrator
  • The woman at the store. She was a barmaid until she got married. After the first child was born her husband started beating her, as implied by the loss of her two front teeth (when she was previously described as beautiful) and her accusation that he caused her four miscarriages. She has suffered from emotional and physical abuse by her husband who she claims 'spoilt' and 'stole' her beauty, youth and innocence. She justifies why she killed her husband though she does not confess it.
  • The woman's young daughter. She has been neglected by her mother, and is disliked by the other three characters ("Shut your mouth," said the woman. [...] "Good thing that's broke loose," said Jo. "I've 'ad it in me 'ead for three days."). She likes drawing, and is a generally unruly child: she plays in the dirt, picks earwax from her ears and spies on the narrator whilst she is bathing. She is also distressed at having to live with her insane mother who killed her father.

Major themes

  • Loneliness
  • Isolation in the New Zealand country side
  • New Zealand's relationship with Britain. New Zealand was viewed as Britain's 'little farm'
  • Women's rights and how they were abused
  • The idea of how women were expected to have children even if they weren't suited to motherhood

References to actual history

Literary significance

The text is written prior to Mansfield's shift to the modernist mode, with a linear narrative and conventional resolution in denouement. Because of this, Mansfield grew to dislike the story somewhat, and refused to have the story reprinted "par example" in her lifetime.



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