In the story "The Garden Party", how is the character of Laura Sheridan revealed ? 

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Katherine Mansfield's coming-of-age story "The Garden Party" focuses on the social and psychological discoveries of a young, well-to-do woman who vicariously experiences through certain events the realities of life. These realities include social injustice, the classicism of society, life, and death.

The narrative of the story shows that the realization of Laura Sheridan does not actually come from what others think or expect of her. Far from it, she actually detours from what the narrator calls the "wonders" of "her upbringing", and pushes herself to enter certain situations. Case in point, her admiration for the workmen whom, at first, she tried to treat in a business-like manner only to end up appreciating their rogue ways, and understanding their appreciation for her flowers.

How many men that she knew would have done such a thing? Oh, how extraordinarily nice workmen were, she thought. Why couldn't she have workmen for her friends rather than the silly boys she danced with and who
came to Sunday night supper? She would get on much better with men like these.

Laura is not revealed by the narrator either. The third person omniscient subjective narrative is actually the best conduit to enter deep into the thoughts of the main character as they occur to the character, herself. Therefore, the discoveries made by Laura are her very own: she has not allowed life nor society to alter what her heart is speaking to her. The evidence of this lies on the fact that Laura, out of all of the members of her family, was the only one to instinctively realize how wrong it is to hold an extravagant party after having received news of the death of a local man. This is significant because it shows that Laura is much more socially conscientious than her entire family. She also shows kindness, sympathy, and compassion without having been taught any of that.

But we can't possibly have a garden-party with a man dead just outside the front gate....And just think of what the band would sound like to that poor woman [the man's widow], said Laura.

This sudden burst of humanity is as shocking to Laura as it would be to her family. That simply shows that the discovery is completely inherent to her. Nothing has been manipulated; Laura has finally grown up. So much is her shock at life that it leaves her speechless at the sight of the beautiful young man, about to be laid to rest eternally. In typical Mansfield style, the feeling is sublime and yet overwhelming; everything is juxtaposed: life and death, sadness and joy. This is what produces her famous last words

"It was simply marvellous. But Laurie–" She stopped, she looked at her brother. "Isn't life," she stammered, "isn't life–" But what life was she couldn't explain. No matter. He quite understood.

"Isn't it, darling?" said Laurie.

Read the study guide:
The Garden Party: And Other Stories

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