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A Plot Summary of Katherine Mansfield's A Cup of Tea

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The story narrates the life of a rich and materialistic woman named Rosemary who tries to be charitable and compassionate to others who are less unfortunate. However, her generosity is not genuine as has more to do with the novels of such selfless acts that she reads and wants to enact in real life. She is married to a loving husband Phillip but is still insecure about her beauty as the story exposes.

One day, while shopping for antiques, Rosemary comes across a beautiful box. She enquires about the price which is too exorbitant. She asks the shopkeeper to save it for her and leaves the shop with unfulfilled desires. While getting to her car she is startled by a girl. This girl is wearing tattered clothes and asks her for money for tea. Rosemary finds this an opportunity to feel good about herself by being charitable. She almost bullies the young girl into coming with her to the house.

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Once they arrive, Rosemary pampers the poor girl and tries to make her comfortable. However, she forgets about how starved she is and the girl complains about the same. Rosemary hurriedly asks the domestic help to bring some tea and food which the girl engulfs instantaneously. Rosemary tries to enquire more about the girl as she is planning to help her in more substantial manner. However, they are interrupted by her husband Phillip who is shocked to the visitor in his house. He drags Rosemary to a private corner and expresses her surprise and disapproval. Rosemary is unmoved and resists her husband’s criticism. Seeming his wife’s determination, Phillip tries the oldest trick in diplomacy i.e. jealousy. He praises the girl on her winsome looks and this stirs Rosemary the wrong way. Suddenly, her compassion is struck by a bolt of jealousy. She moves swiftly into her study room and grabs some money. She offers the young girl that money and asks her to leave the premises.

Once she sees the girl off, Rosemary returns to her husband and informs him the same. She asks him if she could buy the antique box she saw earlier and he obliges. However, she was not being entirely honest in her questions and keeps the truth buries in her heart. In fact what she truly wanted, she could not let out save in a whispered words. She wanted her husband to praise her the way he praise the girl, about her beauty and attractiveness.

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