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Katherine Mansfield – The Garden Party

The text’s main theme is the rich family’s view of the people from the lower class and their behavior towards them. Laura and her family are arranging a garden party for all their upper-class friends; they are a rich family with a nice house, a big garden and several servants. Laura is walking outside enjoying her bread-and-butter while helping the workmen find a good place for the marquee. Laura is not aware of her position as an upper-class girl; she is very open-minded and finds the workmen charming. On page 295, paragraph 21, she is wondering: “Why couldn’t she have workmen for her friends rather than the silly boys she danced with and who came to Sunday night supper?”

She is tired of all these arranged meetings she is having with ordinary boring boys. She doesn’t want to be a part of this setup, so a little later on page 295, paragraph 22, we see how: “Laura took a big bite of her bread-and-butter as she stared at the little drawing. She felt just like a work-girl.” – trying to be like the others, but it’s obvious that she doesn’t know the quintessence of working (Cook is in charge of the food, the workers of the marquee, the gardeners and the florist are making the garner look marvellous, and she limits herself to making wrong decisions – like suggesting the wrong place for the marquee – and agreeing to others’ decisions: “Don’t you agree, Laura?” “Oh, I do, mother”). In fact, very few in the family have a proper relationship to anything but their own “problems”.

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On page 296, Meg is about to sing a song called “This life is weary”; compared to what? The family is doing nothing but feeling sad for themselves, being concerned for their image and arranging garden parties for rich people; there are nothing but hypocrites. Later on in the story, we hear of the man who had been killed, this is an adamant one for Laura, and she insists on cancelling the party. Laura’s relationship to the dead man and the garden party is two contrasts she has to take a stance too, because of her conscience. We see this on page 299, where Laura says in paragraph 95: “But we can’t possibly have a garden party with a man dead just outside the front gate.” Once again, she proves her non-class-distinguishing mind, being very upset because of the death of a lower-class man.  This event is insignificant to her mother and her sister; they have a patronizing relationship with the lower class and really don’t care about them unless the accident were about to spoil the garden party. We see this on page 299, paragraph 103-106:

  • “Mother, a man’s been killed,” began Laura
  • “Not in the garden?” interrupted her mother.
  • “No, no!”
  • “Oh, what a fright you gave me!”
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It’s unbelievable how the mother is more concerned about the party than the man’s death. This whole situation is incomprehensible to Laura, but apparently, she is the only one with this opinion. She also went to her brother for his advice. Still, on page 300, paragraphs 121,122, we realize she’s maybe the most hypocrite of the family since we see how she suddenly forgets everything about the accident in favor of her own beauty:

  • My word, Laura! You do look stunning,” said Laurie. “What an absolutely topping hat!”
  • Laura said faintly, “It is?” and smiled up at Laurie and didn’t tell him after all.
  • So far and no further went her conscience on behalf of her wish of recognition.

The actual party is not described in more than a very few sentences. This is maybe the author’s way of showing the importance of the event. After the party, we meet the man in the house, Mr. Sheridan; he is apparently aware of the tragedy and is very sad about the widow and the fatherless children. Mrs. Sheridan feels awkward, and in a last attempt to save her image as a caring mother towards her husband, she wants to send the poor creatures some of her delicious food, so it’s not all going to be wasted giving the children the greatest treat.

Laura sets out for the village, where she sees people gathering around the house, honoring the dead man and his wife. Although they seem to have a strong bond, this happening would never have occurred between the rich people. When Laura sees the dead man, she comes to think about what’s important in life, what kind of things matter, and how “beautiful” death can be. In this instance, her childish thoughts are gone. She is now aware of the gap between the poor and the rich and the consequences of our lives. Laurie has come to check up on Laura, and she embraces him, crying. But she is not crying tears of fear, but in awe, feeling things that she cannot express.

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On page 303, paragraph 178, 179, Laura is trying to explain how Laurie she feels: “No,” sobbed Laura. “It was simply marvellous. But Laurie” She stopped, she looked at her brother. “Isn’t life,” she stammered, “isn’t life” But what life was, she couldn’t explain. No matter. He quite understood. “Isn’t it, darling?” said Laurie. But what is life, Beautiful? And is Laurie thinking the same thing? We know that Laura is not the same person anymore; she is in contrast to everybody in her family in her way of thinking, maybe except for her father. She has evolved her personality from being a little girl, not knowing anything about the class gaps and the things in life which matter, to a girl able to spot the differences in life to what matters and what doesn’t. The progress that no one else in the story has been able to.

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Katherine Mansfield - The Garden Party. (2021, Sep 07). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from