The Garden Party: And Other Stories Questions and Answers
by Katherine Mansfield

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What is the role of money in the short story "The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Money makes all the difference in "The Garden Party," because, as Mansfield demonstrates, it is what separates the social classes. It gives the middle and upper classes a great deal of power, and it keeps the working classes powerless.

While Laura begins the story telling herself that class differences don't matter, by the end of the story, she has learned otherwise. She wishes to cancel the garden party planned for the day—a beautiful, balmy day—because a worker in the neighborhood has been killed. She initially believes it is callous and lacking in empathy to have a celebration in the wake of such a tragedy—and protests that the death of a poor person matters as much as a rich one. However, she is soon bought off with the pretty new hat her mother gives her, showing the role of money in dividing the classes. It becomes clear that the rich, because they have the money and the power, are not going to be inconvenienced or give up their pleasures for the benefit of the poor.

At the end of the story, Laura brings a basket of leftover pastries from the party to the widow and children of the newly dead man. They live in a small cottage and Laura is made uncomfortable by her awareness of the difference between rich and poor. Nevertheless, the ending of the story illustrates that the rich will simply give the poor their leftovers, and therefore the class divide will continue to be profound.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Money has an implicit role in "The Garden Party," being a silent character that guides, governs and motivates the physical characters' words, thoughts and actions. It is money after all that permits costly garden parties with sumptuous spreads of food, "lace frocks," "black hats," and elegant disregard of life and death. When Laura comes up against the conflict of the garden party against a mortal calamity, one which will occur in Laura's garden and one which did occur in Laura's garden, she is implicitly coming up against a conflict of money against poverty, privilege against dependence, which is the dependence of life upon labor and exertion. The black hat, which Laura's mother almost compels Laura to wear when she takes food to deliver to the grieving widow of the accidentally killed laborer, stands as a symbol of all that money can provide and of the blindness to the reality of poverty that money precipitates. This is why Laura exclaims, "Forgive my hat." Money is central to the story; money is the Maypole to the dancers and excluded on-lookers.

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