The Garden Party (short story)

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"The Garden Party" is a 1922 short story by Katherine Mansfield. It was first published in the Saturday Westminster Gazette on 4 February 1922, then in the Weekly Westminster Gazette on 18 February 1922. It later appeared in The Garden Party: and Other Stories.[1] Its luxurious setting is based on Mansfield's childhood home at Tinakori Road, Wellington.

Plot summary[edit]

The Sheridan family is preparing to host a garden party. Laura is supposed to be in charge but has trouble with the workers who appear to know better, and her mother (Mrs. Sheridan) has ordered lilies to be delivered for the party without Laura's approval. Her sister Jose tests the piano, and then sings a song in case she is asked to do so again later. After the furniture is rearranged, they learn that their working-class neighbor Mr. Scott has died. While Laura believes the party should be called off, neither Jose nor their mother agree. The party is a success, and later Mrs. Sheridan decides it would be good to bring a basket full of leftovers to the Scotts' house. She summons Laura to do so. Laura is shown into the poor neighbors' house by Mrs. Scott's sister, then sees the widow and her late husband's corpse. She is enamored of the young man, finding him beautiful and compelling, and when she leaves to find her brother waiting for her she is unable to complete the sentence, "Isn't life..."

Characters in "The Garden Party"[edit]

  • Mrs. Sheridan, Mr. Sheridan's wife and mother of Laura, Laurie, Meg, and, Jose. She is in charge of the household on a daily-basis.
  • Laura Sheridan, Mrs. Sheridan's daughter (and the story's protagonist)
  • The workers, who put up a marquee in the garden
  • Mr. Sheridan, Mrs. Sheridan's husband and father of Laura, Laurie, Meg, and, Jose. On the day of the party, he goes to work but joins the party later that evening.
  • Meg Sheridan, a second daughter
  • Jose Sheridan, a third daughter
  • Laurie Sheridan, a son, Laura's brother
  • Kitty Maitland, a friend of Laura and a party guest
  • Sadie, a female house servant
  • Hans, a male house servant
  • The florist, who delivers lilies ordered by Mrs. Sheridan
  • Cook, a cook
  • Godber's man, the delivery-man who brings in the cream puffs
  • Mr. Scott, a lower-class neighbor who has just died
  • Em Scott, the deceased's widow
  • Em's sister

Major themes[edit]

Class consciousness. Laura feels a certain sense of kinship with the workers and again with the Scotts. An omniscient narrator also explains that, as children, Laura, Jose, Meg, and Laurie were not allowed to go near the poor neighbors' dwellings, which spoil their vista.

Illusion versus reality. Laura is stuck in a world of high-class housing, food, family, and garden parties. She then discovers her neighbour from a lower class has died and she clicks back to reality upon discovering death.

Sensitivity and insensitivity. The Sheridans hold their garden party, as planned, complete with a band playing music. Laura questions whether this is appropriate, given the death of their neighbor only a few hours earlier.

Death and life. The writer masterfully handles the theme of death and life in the short story. The realization of Laura that life is simply marvellous shows death of human beings in a positive light. Death and life co-exist and death seems to Laura merely a sound sleep far away from troubles in human life.

References to other works[edit]

Literary significance[edit]

The text is written in the modernist mode, without a set structure, and with many shifts in the narrative.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Katherine Mansfield, Selected Stories, Oxford World's Classics, explanatory notes
  2. ^ Katherine Mansfield, Selected Stories, Oxford World's Classics, explanatory notes
  3. ^ Foster, Thomas C. (2003), How to Read Literature Like a Professor, New York: Harper-Collins Publishers Inc., ISBN 978-0-06-000942-7.

External links[edit]