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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In "The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield, how has Laura grown? What has she learned from her day and how does she mature from her experience? Also, what could we predict for her future after that day?

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The way Laura grows in "The Garden Party" is by experiencing the first paradigm shifts of her life. Rather than changing the way that she sees life by going through a ceremonial "coming of age" rite, such as the comparable character of Leila in Mansfield's other short story "Her First Ball", Laura's change clearly comes from within. Perhaps she was "ready" indeed to undergo an important change; an event much more important than the mere occupation of taking charge of a garden party. Yet, this was the pivotal event that set Laura's fate in motion. 

Laura starts her day in a typical way: expecting things to happen on their own, within a set order, a set hierarchy, set rules, and set roles. The first shift is that of role, as she no longer is treated as a young guest of the garden party, and is asked by Meg to take over the lead, as she couldn't possibly speak to the working men. Therefore, here we see Meg, the one person expected by the mother to take charge, delegating this role to Laura.  

Like a natural, Laura jumped into the task but still could not believe her capability of talking to the men, taking charge of something, and acting on behalf of her mother. 

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 also does other things: She gets to experience death for the first time, as a carter dies and she wants to show respect by proposing that the party is postponed.

Shocked by the proposal, the response of the mother is to give her a fancy, "grown-up" hat to wear to the party. While the hat symbolizes the distractions of the rich even in the midst of a tragedy involving someone of lesser station, the hat is also symbolic. Upon wearing it, it brings out Laura's natural "grown up" looks, and also sets her apart from the rest of the women for its unique, rare style. Such are also Laura's personality traits. She possesses the rare gift of compassion, empathy, and fairness.  

Laura then volunteered to take a basket to the family of the dead man and, apologizing beforehand about the hat, she expressed her most heart-felt condolences, and broke down afterwards after seeing the face of the deceased. 

All this being said, it is arguable that Laura has found a part of herself that shifts completely from the paradigms of her generation; one in which women were practically expected to be ornamental. She wants to feel useful and valid; she wants to share with everyone and feel, perhaps, that she holds more than one common bond with just one group. Hence, in just one day, she experienced discoveries of identity, social roles, her role in the family, coming of age, life,...

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and death. It is a full circle of new emotions. 

Arguably, this will affect her life in the future because she already sees it differently than her family. She will be less likely to impart in her own children the paradigms she learn from her upbringing. Chances are that she will be a much more progressive woman than her sisters, and her own mother. She will perhaps become one of the women from her generation who stood out to declare their capabilities and independence. Who knows? Maybe Laura would become a pioneer in her generation that would advocate for the rights of others. She certainly exhibits those traits, and she seems ready to embrace them. 

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