How would you characterize the character of Laura from Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party"?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Laura Sheridan is difficult in two ways: As a character in the story, she makes the day of the garden party more difficult for her mother, and as a literary figure, she is difficult for readers to interpret and perhaps difficult to like. As the story opens, Laura is being very helpful and cooperative with the preparations for the party, helping to direct the workmen who are putting up the marquee and assisting with labeling the sandwiches. She displays great affection for her brother and mother. But when she learns of the accident that has killed a neighbor whom they didn't know, she immediately expects her family to "stop everything." Her sister Jose becomes "seriously annoyed" with her, and her mother loses patience with her as well, telling her she is "being very absurd" and that she is spoiling "everybody's enjoyment." After the party, Mrs. Sheridan agrees to extend kindness to the wife of the dead man by sending "that poor creature some of this perfectly good food." When Laura hesitates, her mother asks her what is wrong with her--she had previously insisted on showing sympathy and now she doesn't want to. Laura and her mother are at odds about the right way to deal with the bereaved family both before and after the party, making Laura a difficult daughter.

Readers also find Laura difficult to interpret and perhaps difficult to like. At the beginning, she seems enlightened, wanting to do away with class distinctions and to treat those who are below her socioeconomic class with the same dignity she would show others in her class. Readers begin to like Laura and agree with her. But when Laura allows the frivolity of the party and her own hat to sway her, readers find it more difficult to take Laura's side. Yet when she is thrust into the awkward position of visiting the home of the dead man, readers may feel more empathy for Laura even as they expect her to regain her former feelings toward her neighbors. Unfortunately, Laura's reaction to seeing the dead man does not seem to reawaken her former idealistic views. Instead she finds the dead man "wonderful, beautiful," and seems to revert to her childish, class-conscious ways by sniffing, "Forgive my hat." Although readers have high hopes for Laura, her reaction is difficult to interpret. As much as readers want to believe she has changed and given up her uppity attitudes, she gives them nothing to hang their hats on there. Her cryptic last words to Laurie, "Isn't life--" make Laura difficult to understand.

renelane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Laura is a character that attempts to change in the story. Many stories center on a character's growth or change. The problem with this character is that the reader cannot ascertain that any change has occurred by the end of the story.

Laura is struggling with her ideas of class. The death of a neighbor of the working class makes Laura think that her family's garden party should be canceled out of respect to the neighbors. Yet, while Laura makes an attempt to convince her mother of this, she is easily swayed with the new hat her mother gives her.

Laura switches back and forth between having insight and empathy for the working class and retreating back into her family's elitist attitude. The end of the story does not give the reader a verifiable change in Laura's outlook.

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

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