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Innocence vs experience is a common theme in literature. They are on opposite sides of the spectrum and as we move through life we begin to lose our innocence as we gain more experience. To some, this means our obstacles, our suffering, our trials and tribulations may be painful, they may take away some of our sunny outlook on life, but they teach us valuable lessons. Think Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caufield is naive at the start of the novel. He childishly looks down on others around him, but as he comes to terms with his own reality he starts to learn about his own role in the grand scheme of things. In turn, he tries to preserve the innocence of others (which he cannot do for himself) by imagining himself as the catcher in a field of rye. As children run dangerously close to the edge, he dreams he can catch them all and save them from the burden of growing up, of gaining experience. It's not that innocence is always good and experience always bad, only that certain people (or characters) will perceive these two extremes in different lights.
Themes in literature allow writers to share their intended message with readers and help to create a structure and an intention. The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield follows Laura on her road of self-discovery. A moral dilemma faces an indulged and privileged Laura when the garden party which her wealthy mother is hosting must take place despite tragic circumstances facing the family's much poorer and socially inferior neighbors. Although Laura is inclined to think that the party should be cancelled out of respect for the loss of the family's unknown neighbor who has been tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident, Laura allows her fickle nature to get the better of her. She is persuaded that she looks too stylish in her outfit- and especially her hat- to cancel. The family will make up for their seemingly uncaring attitude later by sending Laura around to the house with a basket of food from the party, by way of apology if the noise in any way offended the mourners.
One of the themes which therefore reveals itself in this story is the innocence and experience theme. Laura will learn during the build up to the party and certainly afterwards, how gaining experience can be humbling and she will realize how inadequate her excuses are and how her innocence and lack of experience reveal her ignorance and expose her as immature and frivolous with no real concerns. However, Laura learns from each of her experiences, from trying to manage the workmen at her home to wanting to cancel the party but being overruled and finally to meeting her neighbors and, despite her reluctance, to attending the dead man's bedside. Laura even recognizes how inappropriate her hat is as she says "Forgive my hat." Her new insight reveals that she is maturing and has the potential to be a far more well-rounded individual.
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