A Cup of Tea: AHSEC Class 12 Alternative English notes

a cup of tea
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Get summaries, questions, answers, solutions, notes, extras, PDF and guide of Class 12 (second year) Alternative English textbook, Chapter 1: A Cup of Tea, which is part of the syllabus of students studying under AHSEC/ASSEB (Assam Board). These solutions, however, should only be treated as references and can be modified/changed. 

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“A Cup of Tea” is a short story by Katherine Mansfield, first published in 1922. It revolves around Rosemary Fell, a wealthy, fashionable, and somewhat pretentious woman who enjoys the privileges of her high social status. The narrative provides insight into Rosemary’s character and the dynamics of her life, shedding light on themes of class consciousness and the superficiality of the upper class.

Rosemary, though not traditionally beautiful, compensates with her modernity, intelligence, and sense of style. She is married to Philip, who adores her, and they live a life of luxury. One winter afternoon, while shopping in an exclusive antique store in Curzon Street, Rosemary encounters a poor young girl, Miss Smith, who asks her for the price of a cup of tea. Struck by the romanticism of the situation, reminiscent of a scene from a Dostoevsky novel, Rosemary decides to take Miss Smith home.

Rosemary’s motivation is complex. On the surface, she seems to be acting out of kindness, but her actions are driven by a desire to feel generous and to have a story to tell her friends. She envisions herself as a benefactor, making a real difference in someone’s life. She brings Miss Smith into her lavish home, offering her warmth, food, and shelter.

However, the situation takes a turn when Philip returns home. He is shocked and displeased by Rosemary’s impulsive act of charity. In a subtle yet sharp manner, he points out the impracticality of her actions. To further complicate matters, he comments on Miss Smith’s beauty, inciting a pang of jealousy in Rosemary. This jealousy quickly erodes Rosemary’s superficial benevolence. She decides to send Miss Smith away, offering her money as a consolation.

The story ends with Rosemary’s superficial concern about her own appearance, asking Philip if she is pretty. This ending highlights the superficiality and self-absorption that underlie Rosemary’s character. Mansfield uses Rosemary’s interactions with Miss Smith to expose the fragility of the upper-class’s charitable gestures and the underlying motives of vanity and self-gratification.

“A Cup of Tea” offers a critical look at class distinctions and the superficiality of upper-class charity. Rosemary’s brief encounter with Miss Smith serves as a mirror, reflecting her own insecurities and the hollowness of her attempts at generosity. Mansfield’s narrative style, rich in psychological insight and social commentary, brings to light the complexities of human behaviour and the often hypocritical nature of social pretensions.

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Textbook solutions

State whether these sentences are True or False

1. Miss Smith was a very rich girl.

Answer: False

2. Rosemary was a very compassionate woman.

Answer: False

3. Philip did not want Miss Smith to dine with them.

Answer: True

4. Rosemary had been married for a couple of years.

Answer: True

Answer these questions in one or two words

1. Which Russian author influenced Katherine Mansfield?

Answer: Dostoevsky

2. In which street was Rosemary shopping when she met Miss Smith?

Answer: Curzon Street

3. How many pounds did Rosemary give to Miss Smith?

Answer: Three pounds

4. What is the cost of the enamel box that Rosemary wanted to buy?

Answer: Twenty-eight guineas

5. What is the name of the main character of ‘A Cup of Tea’?

Answer: Rosemary Fell

Answer these questions in a few words each

1. What are the names of the two women characters in the story ‘A Cup of Tea’?

Answer: Rosemary Fell and Miss Smith

2. What kind of a relationship do Rosemary and Philip share in ‘A Cup of Tea’?

Answer: They share a married relationship.

3. How does Philip react towards Miss Smith?

Answer: Philip admires her beauty and disapproves of her staying.

4. Who was Miss Smith? Why did Rosemary send her back?

Answer: Miss Smith was a poor girl. Rosemary sent her back because Philip admired her beauty, causing Rosemary to feel jealous.

5. Why did Philip disapprove of Rosemary’s decision to keep Miss Smith with them?

Answer: Philip disapproved because he found Miss Smith astonishingly pretty and thought it was a mistake.

Answer these questions briefly in your own words

1. Write a brief character sketch of Rosemary Fell.

Answer: Rosemary Fell is an upper-class woman who is described as “young, brilliant, extremely modern, exquisitely well dressed, amazingly well read in the newest of the new books.” She is not exactly beautiful but compensates for it with her style, fashion, and a life of luxury. Rosemary is generous, yet her generosity often stems from a desire to show off rather than genuine kindness. She enjoys the admiration and attention of her upper-class friends and leads a life filled with social events and shopping sprees in exclusive stores. However, her actions reveal a superficial understanding of the lives of those less fortunate.

2. Describe Rosemary’s encounter with Miss Smith.

Answer: Rosemary encounters Miss Smith one winter evening outside an antique shop. Miss Smith, a poor young girl, asks Rosemary for the price of a cup of tea. Struck by the romanticism of the situation, Rosemary decides to take her home, imagining it to be an adventure akin to something from a Dostoevsky novel. She is eager to help Miss Smith and prove that rich people have hearts and that miracles can happen. Rosemary brings her home, offers her tea and warmth, but the encounter ultimately exposes Rosemary’s superficiality and leads to Miss Smith being sent away with money.

3. How does Katherine Mansfield explore the theme of ‘class difference’ in ‘A Cup of Tea’?

Answer: Katherine Mansfield explores the theme of class difference through the contrasting lives of Rosemary Fell and Miss Smith. Rosemary’s life of wealth, luxury, and social privilege starkly contrasts with Miss Smith’s poverty and desperation. Rosemary’s actions are motivated by a desire to display her generosity rather than genuine compassion, highlighting the superficiality and hypocrisy of the upper class. The story critiques the way the wealthy perceive and treat the poor, exposing the deep social divide and the lack of true understanding and empathy between the classes.

4. Why did Rosemary take Miss Smith home?

Answer: Rosemary took Miss Smith home because she was struck by the romantic and novel-like nature of their encounter. She saw it as an adventure and an opportunity to demonstrate her generosity and kindness. Rosemary was motivated by a desire to show that rich people had hearts and that wonderful things could happen in life. Her intentions were more about fulfilling her own romanticized ideals and impressing her social circle rather than genuinely helping Miss Smith.

Answer these questions in detail

1. Examine in detail the various themes explored by Katherine Mansfield in her story ‘A Cup of Tea’.

Answer: Katherine Mansfield’s story ‘A Cup of Tea’ explores several themes:

  • Class Difference: The story delves into the disparity between the rich and the poor. Rosemary Fell, an affluent woman, leads a life of luxury, while Miss Smith, a poor girl, struggles to afford a cup of tea. This contrast highlights the social divide and the superficial understanding the wealthy have of poverty.
  • Generosity and Hypocrisy: Rosemary’s actions appear generous, but they are driven by a desire to display her benevolence rather than genuine compassion. This hypocrisy is exposed when her husband, Philip, provokes her jealousy by admiring Miss Smith’s beauty, leading Rosemary to send her away with money.
  • Materialism and Consumerism: The story critiques the materialistic nature of the upper class. Rosemary’s life is filled with shopping sprees and luxurious items, exemplified by her desire to purchase an expensive enamel box, even as she encounters someone who cannot afford basic necessities.
  • Gender Roles and Identity: The story also touches on gender dynamics. Rosemary’s sense of self-worth is tied to her appearance and her husband’s approval, as seen when she seeks validation from Philip by asking if she is pretty.
  • Existential Crisis and Reality vs. Idealism: Rosemary’s romanticized view of helping Miss Smith is shattered by the reality of her superficial motives and the practicalities of class differences. This clash between idealism and reality underscores the existential crisis faced by individuals who seek meaning in their actions but are constrained by societal norms and personal vanity.

2. Comment on the significance of the title of the story ‘A Cup of Tea’.

Answer: The title ‘A Cup of Tea’ holds significant meaning in Katherine Mansfield’s story. It symbolizes the simple human need and the basic act of kindness that Miss Smith seeks. However, this simple request becomes a catalyst for exploring deeper social issues. For Rosemary Fell, offering a cup of tea represents an opportunity to display her generosity and elevate her self-image. The title encapsulates the contrast between the apparent simplicity of the gesture and the complex interplay of social dynamics, superficiality, and genuine need. It highlights how a seemingly trivial request can reveal profound truths about character, society, and human nature.

Extra questions and answers

1. Who is the author of “A Cup of Tea”?

Answer: Katherine Mansfield is the author of “A Cup of Tea”.

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30. Explore the significance of the story’s title and how it relates to the main themes of the narrative.

Answer: The title “A Cup of Tea” signifies the seemingly simple and insignificant request made by Miss Smith, which serves as the catalyst for the unfolding events. The story revolves around this request, highlighting themes of class disparity, superficial generosity, and the complexities of human nature. The title underscores the disparity between Rosemary’s luxurious life and Miss Smith’s desperate need. It also reflects the superficial nature of Rosemary’s generosity, as she views the encounter as an adventure rather than a genuine act of kindness. The title encapsulates the central conflict and the critique of social norms, emphasizing the superficiality of appearances and actions.

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