The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield

The Garden Party

The Garden Party is a story of a family who held a party. As I can see from some passages which I explain later, class becomes a main topic here. Meanwhile, I cannot see clearly whether the Sheridans are upper or middle class, but in my opinion they are middle-class because of the worker father, ‘or shall I have to tell your father when he comes home tonight?’ The setting perhaps is in New Zealand. As written in the passage ‘Against the karakas, then the karaka-trees would be hidden’. It is endemic to New Zealand by Maori (wikipedia). Mansfield was born and brought up in New Zealand. The style of writing in The Garden Party uses past tense because the events are over and the narrator only re-tells it. The story is told by third person omniscient point of view. It knows what happened in everywhere, for example in every part of the house and in the lane. It also knows the character’s thoughts. For instance, it knows what Laura was thought as ‘How many men that she knew would have done such a thing? Oh, how extraordinarily nice workmen were, she thought.’

Laura appeared several times as she was the one who had responsibility in arranging the garden party. Laura’s idea, action, and perspective play an important role here. Through Laura I can see there is difference in some person. It was indicated from, ‘Laura upbringing made her wonders for a moment whether it was quite respectful of a workman to talk to her of bangs slap in the eye.’ And ‘something that was to be looped up or left to hang, of these absurd class distinctions.’ It was about her and the tallest workmen and I presume there was an attraction within. It began from her first sight of the workmen. ‘His smile was so easy, so friendly that Laura recovered. What nice eyes he had…’ and ‘Why couldn’t she have workmen for her friends rather that the silly boys she danced with… She would get on much better with men like these.’ Laura saw a new image of man; she compared the lower class man with her middle class fellow. She knew there are classes in life and disagreed with it ‘It’s all the fault, she decided… of these absurd class distinctions.’ Laura tried to break the rules and made a connection with the other class, such as regarding the four men as impressive worker, paying attention to them, and caring the neighbour outside the front gate, ‘When the Sheridans were little they were forbidden to set foot there… but since they were grown up, Laura and Laurie on their prowls sometimes walked through.’ Meanwhile, she didn’t really want to jump the bounds. When Laura and Laurie walked to the lane, ‘It was disgusting and sordid. They came out with a shudder.’ She felt sympathetic for the neighbour, ‘But it all seemed blurred, unreal, like a picture in the newspaper’ She finally visited the cottages to deliver her empathy but she felt not belong there, ‘It was a mistake to have come; she knew all along it was a mistake. Should she go back even now?’ There is a contradiction within herself as she was also clashing with her mom and Jose, ‘Again, how curious, she seemed to be different from them all’ and ‘Here she was going down the hill to somewhere where a man lay dead, and she couldn’t realize it… She had no room for anything else. How strange! …’

There was a gap between the big house of Sheridans and the little cottage, ‘True, they were far too near. They were the greatest possible eyesore, and they had no right to be in that neighbourhood at all’ (the cottage by the narrator). ‘They’d hear us, mother; they’re nearly neighbours!’ (the cottage by Laura). ‘The chap was married too. Lived just below in the lane’ (the cottage by Mr. Sheridan). I also see an obvious disparity between the big house of Sheridans and the little cottage as life and death. Life was represented by the garden party which were alive, beautiful morning, loud voices, laughter, couples strolling, flowers, happiness, tinkling spoons, kisses, ideal weather. Whereas death was represented by the little cottage which was gloomy, pale sky, poverty-stricken chimney, smoky and dark lane, sordid, disgusting, old, unreal. The moment when Laura stepped out of life (her house) and stepped into death (the cottage) was not easy. People stared at her because of her appearance and she realized it, that she was different. The time when Laura came into the bedroom to see the dead man is crucial. She saw a real body of death. ‘There lay a young man, fast asleep—sleeping so soundly, so deeply, that he was far, far away from them both. Oh, so remote, so peaceful. He was dreaming…. What did garden-parties and baskets and lace frocks matter to him? He was far from all those things. He was wonderful, beautiful. While they were laughing and while the band was playing, this marvel had come to the lane. Happy… happy… This is just as it should be. I am content. ’ Death suppose to be dreadful, but Laura used words ‘wonderful and beautiful’ to describe the dead man, ‘marvel’ to describe death. In contrast, ‘But all the same you had to cry … Laura gave a loud childish sob.’ This death was like an unexpected reality than what she had fancied before.

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