What does "The Garden Party" signify?

“The Garden Party” signifies that, irrespective of class differences, we are all united by the great leveler, death. Laura seems to realize this when she sees the body of the dead man in her poor neighbor's house.

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In “The Garden Party,” Mansfield presents us with a stark illustration of the enormous gap between rich and poor in early twentieth-century Britain. Although Laura and her family may live only a stone's throw from a poor neighborhood, they might as well inhabit the far side of the moon, such...

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In “The Garden Party,” Mansfield presents us with a stark illustration of the enormous gap between rich and poor in early twentieth-century Britain. Although Laura and her family may live only a stone's throw from a poor neighborhood, they might as well inhabit the far side of the moon, such is the cultural and material gulf that separates them.

Even so, Laura seems to understand that such gaps, though large, are also highly superficial. Beneath the material and cultural differences to which we attach such significance, we are all fundamentally the same. Laura seems to realize this when she chats to the workmen helping to set up the eponymous garden party.

More importantly, she recognizes the fundamental unity that we all share when she sees the dead body of one of her poor neighbors. The man had been killed in an accident when his horse threw him to the ground.

When Laura goes around to leave a basket with her neighbors, she sees the man's body laid out in the bedroom. At that moment, she senses that the man is at rest, free from a world that contains such amusements as garden parties, baskets, and lace-frocks. Laura is unable to articulate her feelings, but if her previous interaction with the workmen is anything to go by, then she's once again realized that, under the skin, we're all just the same.

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"The Garden Party" signifies how vast the gulf is between the social classes in the Edwardian time period and how difficult it is to bridge the gap, even when the individuals in question live very close to each other.

When the story opens, the lead character, Laura Sheridan, speaks to the workers helping to set up for the afternoon's garden party and thinks how little difference there is between her and them. She dismisses class difference as exaggerated. Later, when a neighboring worker is killed, she wants her family to cancel the garden party out of respect for the dead man. Her family, however, does not think enough of a lower class man to imagine it would make sense to cancel a party because of him. In fact, Laura's family is affronted that poor families pollute their neighborhood by living so close:

A broad road ran between [the Sheridan's grand house and the poorer homes]. True, they were far too near. They were the greatest possible eyesore, and they had no right to be in that neighborhood at all.

Her mother talks Laura out of her stubborn insistence on cancelling the party, even though it is beautiful day and only a poor man who has been killed, by offering her a beautiful new hat to wear. Laura is so charmed by her own striking appearance that she wants to be seen at the party.

Afterwards, as compensation, Laura takes a basket of leftover pastries to the cottage of the dead man's family. She is embarrassed from the start, knowing it is tawdry to offer party leftovers to a family in grief. She is shocked and feels out of place as she approaches the cottage. She is ashamed of her new hat, which now seems hopelessly extravagant against the poverty around her. Once inside the cottage, with its small, poorly furnished rooms, she becomes even more uncomfortable:

Laura only wanted to get out, to get away.

Laura emerges from her experience with a new sense that the class chasm is not one that can be easily crossed but also confused about what it is exactly that she feels about it.

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"The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield is a wonderful, multi-layered story about a young girl who, after spending a wonderful day at a garden party, travels down the road to visit the home and family of young man who was killed on the street earlier that day.  The stark contrast between the two events serves to illustrate the theme of loss of innocence.

On the day of the party the young lady, Laura, is caught up in the preparations for the garden party and what hat she ought to wear.  Once she hears that a man has been killed down the way she immediately thinks they should cancel their party, but in reality, her world and the world of the poor worker couldn't be further away and her mother says, "don't be absurd...don't be so extravagant."  The mother is directly commenting on the youthful innocence of her daughter.  The party goes on as expected, but the idea of the dead man hasn't left Laura's mind.  She asks if she can bring a basket of food to the grieving family, and that short journey down the road brings her to a very mature understanding of life and death.  She is very uncomfortable in the dead man's home surrounded by his family members, but when she actually sees the peaceful look on the man's face as he lies in repose, she realizes there is a simple eloquence in death that everyone shares.  She tells her brother that the experience was "simply marvellous."  While this sounds a bit odd, it is a perfect expression of her growth and new-found maturity.  She sees into the complexity of life and the simplicity of death and she is a different person after this experience.

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