illustration of Laura wearing her mothers hat and holding a basket with a shadowy figure behind her

The Garden Party: And Other Stories

by Katherine Mansfield

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In "The Garden Party," explain Laura's attitude toward the dead man when she saw him.

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This scene is a point of climax in the story -- it is the point where Laura can't go back to her sweet innocence, and yet she is not scarred or cynical as a result of her moments with the dead man.  The narrator, in relating Laura's thoughts, uses all of the language of sleep to talk about the death.  The dead man's sister says "'e looks a picture" and that is exactly what Laura sees -- but it is not a negative or morbib picture, it is a picture of sleeping.  She notes that he looks fast asleep and far away from the people in this room, and this world for that matter.  She imagines he is dreaming and would hate to see him awakened because he in his dream/death he is far from the frivolousness of life and the hardhsips of life.  She says his death is a marvel -- something to be inspire wonder and awe.  Her reaction is so unexpected to us as readers that we are left rethinking what think we know about death.  Her inability to express a complete statement about the meaning of life when she talks to her brother in the end represents that as well.  What words make logical sense to convey what she understands now?

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In "The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield, Laura is a daughter of wealth and aristocracy.  On this special day, the day her family was having an elaborate garden party, a working man who lived at the bottom of the hill, literally and figuratively, died in a tragic accident.  Laura, clearly more sensitive to the human condition, was dismayed  that the party would have to be canceled.  No one else seems to think of the death as more than an inconvenience, though, and the party is held. 

After the party, Laura takes some of the fancy leftovers down the hill to express her condolences for the family.  They are less than kind to her, not understanding that she actually does feel a sincere compassion for this man's death and their loss.  The man's family bring her into the house and immediately into the presence of the dead man, lying in state on a table.  They hoped, I'm sure, to shock her, to somehow put her in her place.  Laura is mortified, until she comes face to face with death.

There lay a young man, fast asleep--sleeping so soundly, so deeply, that he was far, far away from them both.  Oh, so remote, so peaceful.  He was dreaming....  He was given up to his dream.  What did garden-parties and baskets and lace frocks matter to him?  He was far from all those things. He was wonderful, beautiful....  All is well, said that sleeping face.  This is just as it should be.  I am content.

Obviously she saw in this young man the peacefulness of death.  To her he was beautiful and perfect in this state, finished with the cares of this world and enjoying the blessings of the eternal world--no longer worrying about the things of this world.  She was afraid before, but now she is not,  Instead, she is moved by his contentment; and when she tries to explain it to her brother, she really has no words beyond "It was marvelous." And she cried. 

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