In Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party," what would be some examples of the theme of experience versus inexperience?

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sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The protagonist's lack of experience reaches a climax when she visits the cottage of the man who died.  She shows up wearing a pretty dress and elaborate hat, having no idea how out of place this would be in the midst of poverty and death. She does seem to learn with this event, however, although the narrator remains very ambiguous about this.  Laura thinks the dead man looks peaceful, "wonderful, beautiful," which he might in a place that otherwise is so awful in her view--the cottage and its environs are described in very dark terms. Only after she sees the man does she excuse her hat, feeling embarrassed. She knows she has witnessed something profound, but cannot completely understand it. She wants to tell her brother about it at the end of the story, but he interrupts her and misunderstands her, and then speaks for her. When the narrator says "he quite understood," she is being ironic, for he, from his position of class, does not understand the lives of these poor people any more than Laura does. Mansfield's point concerns how class can isolate one from experiencing life in its more real, more raw, aspects.

renelane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Laura is very aware of her inexperience and youth and it causes her great discomfort when put in situations of authority.

When Laura was told to supervise the workers putting up the marquee, she is impressed with their natural ease with one another, as well as the task at hand. She feels all the more inadequate by her job of watching over them.

Laura attempts to be cool and calm as she sets about her task, and she decides to channel her mother's posture and attitude in an attempt to appear confident. When she got out the bread and butter, she realized that there was no where to put it down, and she could not even throw it away, so she was stuck holding it and feeling foolish.

Laura's embarrassment led her to appear strict and stare down the workers, while trying to instruct them with an air of competence she did not feel. Nothing worked, and in the end she felt foolish, and knew her mother or sisters would not have acted in such a way.

While at first idealizing the workers experience and ease, she soon learns that their lives are not carefree.

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

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