Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“The Garden Party” may be Mansfield’s most famous story. It is exceptional and typical at the same time. Laura, a vibrant young woman, is the central character. The story also depicts a worldly older woman (Laura’s mother), a sophisticated social gathering (the party itself), some moderately dense males, and a disturbing event to which they all react differently. The action of the story, more conventionally straightforward than that of “At the Bay,” is also typical of Mansfield. It leads both Laura and the reader to an epiphany—an enigmatic moment of revelation that, in this story, is comic and overwhelming at the same time.
Unlike “At the Bay,” where Mansfield took readers into many minds, readers live through this story in only one. Laura appears to be about sixteen, a young woman on the edge of adulthood. Not only do readers hear her talk, they listen in on her thoughts. She is a bit afraid of the men who put up the tent for the party but enjoys hearing their good-natured banter. Readers sense her joy at being alive when she reacts ecstatically to the spots of light the sun makes on an inkpot. Mansfield brings the reader close to Laura in another typical way. Even the opening description of the day and the flowers seems to be in a character’s mind, not the storyteller’s. To many readers, that mind soon becomes Laura’s.
The opening scenes all suggest a wealthy, normal, and happy family. Laura appears to supervise the tent, but is not allowed to decide where it should be...
(The entire section is 622 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
A busy, happy mood prevails in the morning. The day, the lawns, and the gardens—particularly the roses—are perfect. During breakfast, Mrs. Sheridan asks her youngest daughter, Laura, to go outside and give directions to the men who will erect a canvas shelter for a garden party. Although Laura’s little mission is successful, she questions herself several times. After rushing out, she feels awkward holding her bread-and-butter, and her formal “good morning” to the men sounds inappropriate. One of the men bluntly questions the location that Laura suggests for the marquee. Then she feels embarrassed for having mentioned that a band will play at the party. Happily, the assured manner of the tallest workman relaxes Laura; he speaks for the group and decides where the marquee should go. When he pinches a sprig of lavender and sniffs it, any concerns that Laura might have about her behavior vanish. In fact, she wishes that men of her own class were as nice as this man.
Laura understands that the awkwardness of this little encounter has resulted from “absurd class distinctions.” As she watches the men work, she momentarily feels that she herself is “just like a work-girl.” After she runs back into the house for a phone call, however, she forgets about the workmen as she savors all that she sees and hears. This time a florist interrupts her reverie; the frighteningly alive pink canna lilies that he delivers make Laura ecstatic. No sooner has she kissed her mother in gratitude than her sisters and little brother...
(The entire section is 627 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Katherine Mansfield revolutionized the short story genre by ending the predominant reliance upon traditional plot structure, instead relying more on a specific moment in time, expressed through image patterns. By doing this, Mansfield carried the short story genre away from formalistic structuring and helped to establish its credibility as a literary form.
This collection of short fiction contains the following stories: “At the Bay,” “The Garden Party,” “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” “Mr. and Mrs. Dove,” “The Young Girl,” “Life of Ma Parker,” “Marriage à la Mode,” “The Voyage,” “Miss Brill,” “Her First Ball,” “The Singing Lesson,” “The Stranger,” “Bank Holiday,” “An Ideal Family,” and “The Lady’s Maid.”
The Garden Party centers on female protagonists and the roles they play in family and social structures. These female characters differ in both age and class, ranging between the ages of six and sixty-five years and belonging to lower-, middle-, and upper-class social groups. For example, in “The Garden Party,” the collection’s title story, the female protagonist is approximately sixteen and is a member of aristocratic society, whereas in “Life of Ma Parker,” the title character, a maid, belongs to the lower class and is perhaps fifty.
Not only does Mansfield like to juxtapose differences in class and in age, but she also likes to position fictional elements against one another. Characters, settings, and themes are juxtaposed in her short fiction. In “The Garden Party” two classes are juxtaposed: On one hand there is the affluent and aristocratic Sheridan family celebrating the new flowers in bloom, and on the other hand there is the poor family, less than two miles away from the Sheridan estate, that has just suffered the father’s untimely death.
A feminist, Mansfield juxtaposes the roles of men and women in “At the Bay.” She uses the character of Linda to address the idea that women need more than a husband and children to fulfill their lives. The story’s narrative depicts Linda’s growing realization that there is more to life than wifely and motherly duties. Increasingly evident within the story is her desire to take an active role in her own life.
Mansfield is a master of utilizing and implementing many literary techniques. A striking use of metaphor is apparent in Mansfield’s short fiction. Her stories also tend to operate by means of the implied rather than the direct. Furthermore, she uses a voice that is influenced by the characters, experiments with point of view, employs the use of natural elements, and begins stories in medias res.
Mansfield uses voice to present a character accurately. If a character is a young woman or an adolescent, for example, voice conveys the character’s young or adolescent feelings. If the narrator speaks from the consciousness of a young child, the words are short, to the point, and not complicated, like the language and speech patterns of an actual child. Thus does narrative voice help to give the reader a realistic impression of the character.
Mansfield also experiments with point of view. She uses first and third person viewpoints, standard to short fiction, yet she has also created a point of view peculiarly her own that seemingly derives from her gift of impersonation. Her early mimicking of family and acquaintances carries over in her fiction to her use of a multipersonal perspective. Writing from a multipersonal point of view also allows Mansfield to give readers an extended sense of time, in both a historical and an immediate sense. This point of view also allows Mansfield to extend the viewpoint of a story from that of a single character to that of an entire group. In “The Garden Party,” the beginning viewpoint is that of Laura Sheridan; however, at the end of the story, the viewpoint has...
(The entire section is 1602 words.)