The Garden Party: And Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield

The Garden Party: And Other Stories book cover
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How is epiphany used in "The Garden Party"? Please give some examples.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Epiphany comes at the end of "The Garden Party." Laura begins the story lacking insight and understanding. She happily greets the workers who have arrived at her home to help her family set up for their event. After this encounter, Laura is blithely convinced that there is no difference between the classes and that they can all get along.

After a worker who lives near their home is killed, Laura wants to cancel the party out of respect, only to be bought off when her mother gives her a pretty new hat to wear to it.

The working-class people only become real to Laura as she enters their turf to deliver a basket of leftover food to the dead man's family. At this point she has her first epiphany, as she realizes the class divide is real and can't be as easily conquered as she thought. She finds herself extremely out of place as she walks among the cottages of the poor:

How her frock shone! And the big hat with the velvet streamer—if only it was another hat! Were the people looking at her? They must be. It was a mistake to have come; she knew all along it was a mistake.

Laura becomes even more uncomfortable as she enters the dead man's house and the economic differences between her life and his family's become more apparent. It is worse when she goes into the bedroom to see the dead man. She realizes how frivolous her pleasures are compared to what has happened to him. She apologizes for her hat: this gesture can mean nothing to her hosts, but it conveys her epiphany, or realization, that going to a party so she could show off a pretty hat was shameful in light of the death she has now witnessed.

Finally, at the end, she tries to communicate to her brother Laurie her epiphany that life is more complex and less superficial than she previously thought, but she can't yet find words with which to express her new thoughts. This being at a loss for words shows the start of her inner growth—she can no longer tie life up in a pretty ribbon, as if she understands it:

“No,” sobbed Laura. “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.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "The Garden Party" the theme of  "epiphany" is conveyed through the stream-of-consciousness narrative that envelops the entire experience as it is told from the focalized perspective of Laura.

A well-to-do young woman with little to no worries in life, Laura has reached her "coming of age" years and has been bestowed with the responsibility of preparing and overlooking one of the several high society garden parties that ladies of her class often put together.

This experience alone brings Laura a sense of slight achievement, as she has been trusted with a truly detailed and somewhat tedious task. However, the reader can sense that Laura internally desires something else.

First came the conversation with the four working men who were at the site of the party putting up the marquee. Laura's class clashed against an inner willingness to communicate with these men; her nature prevailed and this is perhaps the first time in Laura's life where she actually speaks one on one with "common" people.

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.

Apparently this leaves a slight mark on her psyche, as later on in the story the local village's carter dies and the news of his sudden death really seems to move her. This is the second instance where Laura feels moved to be a part of the world, and not just an over-protected "princess". 

The progression of the garden party is a metaphor of the passing of time, and the welcoming of maturity. As with many Mansfield stories, the main character is on the verge of experiencing an "epiphany", or life changing experience that will change them forever.

Finally, when Laura enters the home of the dead carter to pay her respects, she sees his young and beautiful demeanor and she is moved to tears. This part of her epiphany represents the shock at realizing that life is just too short and unexpected to be placing so much weight in ephemera such as decorative parties, and on the pleasing of "beautiful people". Life has many dimensions and to live in only one echelon is to rob ourselves of it. This is what Laura ultimately realizes; life is different, much different, than what she has been brought up to believe.

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