Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Of the many people who appear in Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party,” the central character is clearly Laura Sheridan—who begins the day in excited anticipation of the party and ends it moved and baffled by death. Through the day she grows increasingly conscious of the consequences of her social position. As she admires the men erecting the marquee, she regards herself as a “work-girl”; however, one senses that something is wrong. The moment that she goes back inside the house, she becomes absorbed in a conversation about party dresses and forgets the workmen. Later, when she carries sandwiches to the Scotts’ house, her party dress marks her as an outsider in the working-class neighborhood, and her discomfort in the company of the widow and her sister is extreme.
Laura’s “artistic” nature allows her to sympathize with the working class, but her “practical” sister Jose calls such feelings “extravagant,” and her mother finds them amusing. Just as the Sheridan children believe that entering the working-class streets would expose them to disease and foul language, the family steers the maturing Laura toward views that they consider proper. The hat that Mrs. Sheridan gives Laura is part of this training. Initially, when Mrs. Sheridan tells Laura that the hat is “made for you,” Laura cannot imagine herself in it. Black, with gold daisies and a black ribbon, the hat probably seems too adult to Laura. However, her own beauty...
(The entire section is 433 words.)
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