The Daughters of the Late Colonel

by Katherine Mansfield

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What would be an interesting topic unifying "The Daughters of the Late Colonel" and "The Garden Party"?

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These are two great stories by Katherine Mansfield and so you will have lots to write about when you have decided the topic you are going to base your assignment around. One idea that dominates the work of this excellent short story writer is captivity and the way that this term is applied to women. You might want to explore the way that both Laura and the two daughters, Josephine and Constantia are entrapped in various ways and to what extent they are successful in fighting against this captivity.

It is clear that we are presented with two daughters who have been completely dominated in every form by their father. Their lives, up until the death of their father, have been centred around avoiding the ire of their father and avoiding him period. Their characters show the way that their father's house has become a kind of cage for them, just as their own inability to act engages them too. Note how they constantly worry about the consequences of certain actions and are ruled so much by what they think others will say and do about them. Even when they try to sort out their father's things, Constantia's "amazingly bold" action is only one of passivity:

And then she did one of those amazingly bold things that she'd done about twice before in their lives: she marched over to the wardrobe, turned the key, and took it out of the lock.

This "bold" action is only one of postponement. By locking up the wardrobe, she is deferring real action. Even though their father, the source of their domination, has died, the sisters show that they are still just as entrapped by their habitual indecision, timidity and fear. Even though there is evidence of their desire for freedom, they are so repressed and entrapped that they cannot even confess their mutual desire for freedom to each other.

In the same way, Laura shows herself to be just as entrapped in "The Garden Party" by a sense of class consciousness. Even though she starts off as a character by decrying the "absurd class distinctions" that separate her from the men who have come to put up the marquee, as the story progresses and we see the way she becomes distracted from cancelling the party because of the death of a working class man by a beautiful hat, we can see she becomes ensnared by the very class consciousness that she thinks she is unaffected by at the beginning of the story:

Just for a moment she had another glimpse of that poor woman and those little children and the body being carried into the house. But it all seemed blurred, unreal, like a picture in the neewspaper. I'll remember it again after the party's over, she decided.

However, crucially, unlike Josephine and Constantia, we do get some indications at the end of the story that Laura Sheridan is able to break free from these restrictions. As she gazes upon the body of Mr. Scott, she is struck by a kind of an epiphany that features on the peace and tranquility that Mr. Scott has attained in death, compared with the frivolous nature of her preoccupations with the garden party.

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