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

The Garden Party: And Other Stories book cover
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To what extent is Laura represented as a sympathetic character in "The Garden Party"?

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Most readers will find Laura of "The Garden Party" to be a sympathetic character in the first two thirds of the story and may become angry at or disappointed with her in the last third of the story. At the beginning of the story, her cheerful attitude as she sets off to advise the workman about the marquee puts her in a favorable light. Her little embarrassments about eating her bread and butter in front of the workmen and about the head man's interesting slang make her easy to relate to. As she reflects on "these absurd class distinctions," readers sense some virtue in Laura.

Her sympathetic reaction upon hearing about the accident, believing that it was wrong to have a party when such a tragedy had struck someone in the next neighborhood, makes readers like Laura even more. However, Laura's vanity begins to make her waver from her ideals. Although she has decided to let her brother, Laurie's, reaction to the issue of cancelling the party be her answer, she ends up not even telling him about the accident after he compliments her on her looks and her hat. This is where readers may begin to dislike Laura. How could she let her idealistic feelings shrivel so quickly? What about all her avowed dislike of "absurd class distinctions?" Yet she goes on to enjoy the party, being oblivious to the pain of her neighbors.

Although she promised herself she would remember the neighbor's accident "after the party's over," she balks when her mother asks her to take a basket to the family. On her way to their home, she is unable to regain her former sympathy. She is completely focused on herself as she nears the house. Seeing the dead man, she finds him "wonderful, beautiful," yet she forces herself to give a "loud, childish sob." Nevertheless, walking away from the home, her tears are real as she meets Laurie and tries to express her reaction to seeing the body. Readers may become more sympathetic to Laura at the very end since she has endured an awkward experience and has come face to face with death and poverty in a way that she never has before. 

Overall most readers will probably find themselves sympathizing with Laura, although they may be disappointed with her vanity and inconsistency.

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