The Daughters of the Late Colonel

by

Katherine Mansfield

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The Colonel’s Watch Symbol Analysis

The Colonel’s Watch Symbol Icon

Constantia and Josephine argue about the best course of action for the colonel’s gold watch, which Josephine suggests they give to their brother Benny as a gift. Constantia is surprised, noting that the only way to get packages to Ceylon, where Benny works, is through “runners”—native men who deliver parcels to the colonial administrators. Constantia distrusts the natives, but Josephine insists that she will disguise the gift in a “curious shape” so “that no one could possibly guess what it was.” Yet much of this discussion and prevarication seems futile, since the watch no longer works and is not valuable: “And of course, it isn’t as though it would be going—ticking, I mean.” The sisters’ fixation with the broken timepiece mirrors the story’s fixation with disjointed time. Time is out of sync for Constantia and Josephine; though the sisters are approaching middle age (perhaps thirty-five or older), their demeanors are childlike and their names somewhat archaic. Moreover, the colonel is said to have died a week before the story begins, but the sisters seem both distanced from the death (more obsessed with funeral administration than with their recent loss) and yet unable to move on from it, since the colonel continues to assert a powerful presence in their lives. In “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” past and present seem uneasily intertwined.

Constantia and Josephine ultimately decide to give the watch to Cyril, Benny’s son, since “Cyril in London wore [watches] from year’s end to year’s end.” Ironically, Cyril is the only character in the story who seems capable of tracking time and recognizing its disjointedness, since he notes that his aunts’ clock is a “a bit slow.” Yet Constantia, “gazing at the clock,” “couldn’t make up her mind if it was fast or slow.” Thus, the broken timepiece represents the unsettling of time in the narrative: Constantia and Josephine fail to recognize this temporal incongruity, even as it contributes to their emotionally stunted mental states.

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The Colonel’s Watch Symbol Timeline in The Daughters of the Late Colonel

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Colonel’s Watch appears in The Daughters of the Late Colonel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Daughters of the Late Colonel
Patriarchy and Oppression Theme Icon
Ambivalence and Dependency Theme Icon
Josephine decides that their father’s watch would be the most apposite gift, though Constantia is surprised that she would give it... (full context)
Family, Instability, and Fragmentation Theme Icon
...and wonders whether it wouldn’t be more appropriate for the only grandson to have the watch. Cyril would appreciate the gift, and Benny likely no longer wears watches, since men don’t... (full context)
Ambivalence and Dependency Theme Icon
Josephine decides to send Cyril the watch. She and Constantia are interrupted by Kate, who asks them, “Fried or boiled?” They ask... (full context)