The Garden Party
The short story "The Garden Party" written in 1923 by Katherine Mansfield deals with an upper class teenage girl who faces the issue of class distinctions when she is unexpectedly broken the news of the death of an underprivileged neighbour who perishes while she is busy with the preparations of a huge party.
Laura, one of the teenage daughters of the Sheridans', is engaged in arranging the garden party which will be given in the afternoon. Laura WELCOMES the workmen who arrive to build up the marquee, her initial scepticism in view of their lower social class is expelled by fascination and attraction of their way of life. In the course of the preparations they are unexpectedly interrupted by the deliverer who delightfully presents the news of a riding accident which caused the death of a young man from the indigent neighbourhood. Deeply shocked by this incident Laura sets her mind on cancelling the party and tries to convince her sister Jose and her mother of her intention, but they refuse to agree with this idea. Mrs Sheridan even seems to be amused about the commiseration of her daughter.
Trying to divert Laura's attention from the uncomfortable thoughts Mrs Sheridan gives her a beautiful hat to avoid a discussion. Angrily Laura leaves to her own room where she looks at herself in the mirror wearing the new hat, whose beauty sparks off a softening and bending to her mother's words and a driving away of her concern about the occurrence. When Laurie returns from the office Laura's desire to find a confederate in him by telling him about the incident, is subdued by him complimenting her on her fabulous hat. Meanwhile the first guests arrive and the perfect afternoon takes its course,- the garden party is a marvelous success. Later in the evening after all the invitees have left, the family comes together in the marquee and reflects on the day. It is then that Mr Sheridan mentions the accident mistakenly thinking it will be news to the family. Mrs Sheridan does not feel fine talking about all this again and gets nervous and awkward as a result. Preventing reproach she suggests to arrange a basket filled with uneaten rests from the party for the widow.
Laura is not in line with this idea but reluctantly accomplishes her mothers directions and sets off to the wretched place.Walking through the dark streets she notices the skeptical gazes of the poor that follow her till she arrives at the widow's lodge. A small woman who later turns out to be the widow's sister opens the door and invites Laura to take a look at the corpse. She is under the impression that he looks marvelous and far away from everything, in spite of this idea she cannot control herself, thus starts to cry and flees from the cabin to get out of the situation. Meeting Laurie who has been sent by their mom she attempts to voice her feelings about her unfamiliar experience and the awareness she gained about life but is not able to express her thoughts. Despite this her brother understands what she is trying to say.
Laura Sheridan is a teenage girl growing up in an affluent family in an upper class neighborhood,who appears to be a dynamic character in the course of the story. To start with, one can say that she is a very creative, agile person who loves organizing things and is self conscious and aware of her skills, at least in her habitual surroundings.14 Laura seems to be different from all the other members of her family except for her brother Laurie who she gets along with very well.15 She has contempt for conventions16 which shows in her fascination about the workmen and the working class lifestyle as such.17 Moreover her character is very emotional, - her mood varies from high excitement to indignant depression within seconds.18 Getting lost in thoughts and dreams once in a while she also has a naively romantic side.19 Throughout the plot of the story she experiences an inner conflict between her upbringing in the upper class world and the snobbish views of her mother on the one hand and her own originating attitude and experiences on the other hand. Although her attempts to escape from her mother's perspective fail due to her habitual compliancy,20 Laura reinforces the development of her own opinion perceivably.21
3.1.2. Mrs Sheridan
Mrs Sheridan lives with her husband and her six children in a homestead in a wealthy neighborhood. Her personality can be described as superficial which shows in her manner to care for clothes and exterior features only.22 Instead of being warm hearted and concerned about others, she is only worried about herself and her own property and prestige.Mrs Sheridan appreciates luxury greatly and enjoys abundance,23 thus she cannot imagine living in a state of need24 and even demonstrates this dull attitude in a snobby and superiority-showing manner.25 As a result of her preconceived opinion about the workers, she does not allow her children to have contact with them.26 Another characteristic is her way of refusing to admit her faults27 and of always placing blame on others.28
This is in line with her endeavor to evade discussions by changing the subject or simply taking advantage of her authority.29 Additionally, her capriciousness and hypocrisy shows in overacted affection for her children30 on the one hand and arbitrarily ordering them around31 on the other hand.
3.1.3. Oppositeness of the two characters
Although Laura grows up in the artificial world her mother seems to live in and has learned to adapt to her predetermined role,32 there are obvious differences in their characters. While Mrs Sheridan is captured in caring for superficialities only,33 Laura notices in the course of the story that there are other criterions that indicate the real worth and importance of a person.34Furthermore Mrs Sheridan's lack of integrity35 forms another feature that distinguishes her from her daugther. In short, the relationship between Laura and her mother turns out to be marked by naïve assimilation36 but also growing opposition.37
To give a general view of the structure of the story I begin with illuminating its development.
For one thing there is a kind of introductory part on the first page from line 1 to 10 that resembles the opening of a movie when the camera pans in to the garden , where the setting is described. In the following pages hints can be found which lead to the actual complication that appears first on page 45 in line 17. To go into details, the complication is the news of the death of a man from the indigent neighborhood which Laura and her family are unexpectedly confronted with.38 Laura tries to convince the rest of the family to cancel the planned garden party, but is persuaded by the others of the reputed foolishness of her intention.39 So the resulting complication is her figuring out that the world she was raised in is missing profoundness and genuineness, hence she begins to seek sincerity and fulfilling happiness.
An emotional climax can be found when Laura notices that none of the two worlds is able to provide the satifaction she longs for.40
Her struggle between these two sides to find her own identity is the main idea of "The Garden Party".
As a matter of fact, the setting is divided into two completely different worlds that are clearly defined by a broad road.
Firstly, there is the world the Sheridans' homestead is situated in. They live in a magnificent villa in the middle of a spacious garden41 on a little hill42 in a very affluent neighborhood. Apart from the huge hall43 and the summery porch44 there are many different rooms for any imaginable function, including a smoking-room,45 a roomy kitchen area46 and a drawing room where the piano has its place.47
Moreover the trimmed garden is covered with green lawns48, roses49 and also exotic flowers and trees like karakas50 or canna lilies51.A separate tennis court52 and a small lake53 are additional parts that belong to the Sheridans' property.
The other side of the road,54 where the workers and the widow live, lies at the bottom of the hill55. Little brown cottages56 that consist of a few rooms only, presumably just of a passage,57 a low kitchen58 and a bedroom,59 are located in a line to themselves60. The rooms are dark and plain and hardly supplied with furniture at all. If ever, the garden patches61 fenced by shabby palings are only of use for planting cabbage or as a paddock for sick chickens.
Just like the setting, the atmosphere of "The Garden Party" can be distinguished into two parts. While the world of the Sheridans' is described in a colorful, shining way, the atmosphere in the poor neighborhood is depicted in gloomy, depressing words.
By using bright and luminous colours and expressions62 to emphasize the lightness of the environment of the Sheridans, 63 Mansfield conveys a warm and pleasant feeling so that one is almost under the impression of being in a marvelous fairyland. Everything in their house seems to be alive and open and radiates an inviting spirit,64exactly like the description of the nice weather of a perfect morning in early summer65 and the exotic plants and splendid trees with their broad, gleaming leaves66.
In contrast to this, the atmosphere suddenly changes completely when talking about the poor and their surroundings. The brown-painted shabby dwellings that are covered in deep shade,7 the dark lane68 Laura passes and also the pale sky69 leave behind a strong feeling of discomfort. This is in keeping with the frightening occurrence of dark and sluggish people,70 staring eyes71 and a big dog scurrying by like a shadow72. Additionally, the air is burdened with disease and sorrow,73 which underlines the dismal, uncanny atmosphere discribed above.
3.5. Point of view
The story is told from a third person narrator who has an insight into the feelings and thoughts of Laura74 which indicates his limited omniscient perspective. In some parts of the plot he expresses Laura's emotions so specifically that the reader is almost under the impression that Laura and the narrator are the same person