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Garden Party Essay

Essay by   •  September 8, 2011  •  Essay  •  861 Words (4 Pages)  •  2,008 Views

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"Tongue-in-cheek" is the key word for Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party," a story about a young girl named Laura trying to face the concepts of life and death alongside class conflict--and coming up short. Written in the last year of her life, "The Garden Party" is perhaps Mansfield's attempt to reconcile her thoroughly upper-class background with the world. Young, idealistic Laura is an author avatar for Mansfield in this story of social distinctions, upper class life, and resolving life with death.

Mansfield paints a picture of clear social divisions from the onset. In her first meeting with the workmen, Laura is clearly embarrassed by her upper-class background and tries to save face, a theme commonly repeated throughout the short story. At the same time, she revels in it despite trying to deny "these absurd class distinctions," even going so far as to imagine that she is a work-girl. This two-faced nature comes up repeatedly, testing Laura's class-consciousness against the appeal of posh life. Furthermore, Laura "flies" and "skims" when she moves, just as the invitees to the party "alighted" in the garden "like bright birds." This imagery contrasts sharply with the picture of the houses down the lane, which are "mean" and are compared to "minute bird-cages" that entrap the lower class there; where the rich are free, the poor are stuck to their homes and, by extension, their situations. The contrast is even sharper when Laura visits the Scott household, where Mrs. Scott and her sister are both swollen-eyed and red, among other unattractive adjectives. The guests at the party, however, are happy, beautiful, and most importantly joined as couples, contrasted to the newly widowed Mrs. Scott. As an author avatar, Laura is present at all of this, and her naivety provides the irony--whereas she enjoys her upper class status, she immediately becomes self-conscious when faced with reality, showing misguided guilt rather than genuine understanding. Even when faced with the dead Scott, all Laura can do is apologize for her hat, a symbol of her upper-class background.

However, despite the self-deprecation Laura shows, the story portrays the lifestyle itself positively. The Sheridan family is happy, loving, and blessed with all manner of gifts. They are immensely popular and throw lavish parties, vivaciously living life. Even the servants at the Sheridan household are happy to do nothing more than obey their employers. When Laura attempts to break this self-enclosed reality, Mrs. Sheridan and Jose sharply rebuke her as asking for the extravagant. However, this again is tongue-in-cheek; Laura herself admits that her request is extreme, again reconciling the upper class with the lower, persuading them that their requests are "extravagant." Even then, Laura's request is an attempt to save face, trying to

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