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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Laura said, "Isn't life--" But what life she couldnt explain."  What it Laura trying to say about what she thinks of life in "The Garden Party"?

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This becomes one of the fundamental issues in Mansfield's short story.  Laura is unable to explain what she considers life to be.  To a great extent, this makes sense.  Laura has had a moment where she has seen death and formulated impressions about it in terms of noticing the tranquility and serene nature of the laborer's corpse.  This experience with the force of immortality, albeit brief, is one that holds sway over her.  In a world of human constructs such as hats, garden parties, upper and lower classes, as well as tea cups and ice cream puffs, a brief moment with a primal force of nature that has the capacity to undermine human existence in a brutal way causes a shift in focus and understanding.  It is here that Laura returns having experienced some type of change.  It is not clear what that change is, which is why she is unable to explain what "life is."  At some point, what the reader thinks about such issues is probably where the answer lies.  If the reader believes that a brief brush with immortality can cause change within an individual, then one will most likely believe that Laura has changed and has become a person who will be prone to examining being in the world through a different lens.  If one believes that such moments do not change people, then one might be able to embrace the idea that Laura will retreat back into her world of wealth and privilege and forget what was outside it.  In the end, this is suspended.  We simply don't know.  We don't even know if Laura and her brother actually understand one another and the moment that Laura experienced. All we are left to know is that there Laura had a moment where words could not explain what was experienced.  There is a moment, one that transcends words and language, and there is the unknown as to what happens after it.

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