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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How does the narrator establish a sense of social class in the opening of the story "The Garden Party"?

In the opening of the story "The Garden Party," the narrator establishes a sense of social class through the speech of the characters, and also through the clothing that the characters wear.

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At the beginning of the story there is a clear contrast between the speech of the characters from the upper class Sheridan family on the one hand, and the speech of the lower class workmen on the other. This contrast immediately foregrounds the importance of social class to the rest of the story.

One of the daughters of the Sheridan family, Meg, asks her mother, "Where do you want the marquee put, mother?" The mother then replies, "My dear child, it's no use asking me." The fact that Meg addresses her mother as "mother," and is in turn addressed as "my dear child," suggests that they are from an upper-class family. Their speech is formal and polite. In contrast, the workmen speak in a much more informal, colloquial manner. One of the workmen says, for example, "You see, with a thing like a marquee ... you want to put it somewhere where it'll give you a bang slap in the eye."

The sense of social class being important is also indicated through the contrasting clothing of the characters. For example, Meg's sister, Jose, is described as wearing "a silk petticoat and a kimono jacket," whereas the workmen are described as being dressed "in their shirt-sleeves," with "big tool-bags slung on their backs." Jose's clothes suggest an upper class girl used to an easy, comfortable life, whereas the workmen's clothes suggest working men used to hard and physical labor.

The contrast between the comfortable and easy lives of the Sheridan family and the hard, physical lives of the workmen, is also suggested by the narrator's descriptions of their respective movements and demeanours. Jose Sheridan is described as moving like a "butterfly." Laura Sheridan asks questions of the workmen "gently," and when Laura walks across the lawn the narrator says, "Away she skimmed." In contrast, when describing the movements and demeanors of the workmen the narrator uses words such as "thrust," "haggard," and "shouldered." This contrasting language suggests the gentleness and lightness of the upper class Sheridan family, and the forcefulness and heaviness of the workmen.

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