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

The Garden Party: And Other Stories book cover
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What does "The Garden Party" say about class issues and differences? How does Laura see/feel about them?

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“The Garden Party” is a short story by Katherine Mansfield, first published in 1922. It follows the main protagonist Laura, who helps her mother with the organisation of a garden party.

One of the main themes in this short story is the theme of class differences. Laura is clearly from a rich background, as the narrator of the story tells the reader in the first paragraph that Laura’s family has a gardener, a clear indication of their wealth. The family also has other servants, and they are clearly treating these servants as inferior beings. The narrator tells us that “Jose loved giving orders to the servants,” which implies that there is a considerable division between the different social classes in the story.

Laura seems quite sympathetic to the cause of people who are less fortunate than her. She generally seems more empathetic, as she is the one who suggests cancelling the party after the accident. Her mother, on the other hand, looks down on poor people. We can see that, for example, when the mother states that she doesn’t “understand how they keep alive in those poky little holes.” This statement clearly shows how Laura’s mother is looking down on people of a lower social background than her own. By referring to people of a lower social background as “they”, the mother further makes her disdain regarding those people clear. Another example of this is when the mother says that “people like that don't expect sacrifices from us,” which is another derogatory remark stressing the social divide.

In contrast to her family, Laura does not mind people of a lower class. If anything, she enjoys their company and wishes she could spend more time with them. We can see that when Laura asks herself why she can’t “have workmen for her friends rather than the silly boys she danced with and who came to Sunday night supper.”

Laura is aware of how her privileged social status could be upsetting to people of a different social class, therefore she is not comfortable with the condescending way her mother speaks about poorer people. Her mother’s suggestion of bringing the Scott family a basket, filled with leftovers from the party, doesn’t sit right with Laura, as she understands how insulting this would feel for the Scott family. Laura doesn’t like to show off her wealth. To her, the difference in social class feels very uncomfortable. We can see that when Laura goes to speak to the Scott family, as she regrets her choice of outfit: “she wished now she had put on a coat. How her frock shone! And the big hat with the velvet streamer.”

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