Explain the characteristics of Laura in "The Garden Party."
This excellent short story by Katherine Mansfield focuses on the thoughts and feelings of Laura Sheridan and the way that we see her develop during the action of the plot. Clearly, Mansfield presents Laura as an innocent and somewhat naive young lady who during the story is shown to find problematic the class consciousness of her family and her own understanding of social class. This is most clearly seen when Laura finds out about the death of Scott, and Laura is horrified and wants to call off the party:
"Jose!" she said, horrified, "however are we going to stop everything?"
As the story progresses, Mansfield skilfully reveals how Laura's feelings oscillate between tremendous sympathy and empathy for Mr. Scott and his family and her class consciousness and vanity. Note how when she goes to her mother to try and persuade her to cancel the party, her mother distracts her successfully with the new hat, which works because when Laura looks at herself in the hat she wants the opportunity to wear it and does not mention cancelling the party again:
There, quite by chance, the first thing she saw was this charming girl in the mirror, in her black hat trimmed with gold daisies and along black velvet ribbon. Never had she imagined she could look like that. Is mother right? she thought. And now she hoped her mother was right. Am I being extravagant? Perhaps it was extravagant. Just for a moment she had another glimpse of that poor woman and those little children and the body being carried intot he house. But it all seemed blurred unreal, like a picture in the newspaper. I'll remember it again after the party's over, she decided. And somehow that seemed quite the best plan...
Note here how the promise of wearing the hat and showing it off at the party dispels her feelings of horror at the death of Mr. Scott. For her, wearing the new hat and looking good becomes more important than her feelings of sympathy. By the end of the story, however, we see that she has tried to reach out to the Scott family, taking a basket of leftovers, but interestingly it remains bafflingly ambiguous what precisely Laura has gained from the experience. Some argue that her contemplation of the corpse of Mr. Scott shows the impartial and ephemeral nature of her life, and that she goes away from the experience a maturer and wiser person.
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