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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What has Laura learned by the end of the story? Has she completely rejected her family's values? Does Laurie really understand his sister? Make sure that you provided evidence from the text. Do not forget to include in-text citations.

Laura learns by the end of the story that there is a profound difference between the poor working class cottagers who live near her and her own affluent world. She is embarrassed by the expensive hat she wears and the leftover pastries she brings to the dead's man's home. Yet she continues to want to smooth suffering into a pretty picture, showing she has not completely rejected her family's values. Laurie can't understand her because she doesn't yet understand herself.

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Laura starts the story having a positive interaction with workmen setting up her family's garden party. This convinces her that there are no class differences and that the classes can all get along as one. When she finds a worker has died, her newfound sense of solidarity leads her to want to cancel the party. The shallowness of her sentiment is exposed when her mother is able to bribe her with a pretty hat to drop her complaints. Later, Laura is sent to the dead worker's house with a basket of leftover pastries.

It is uncertain how deep Laura's change is, but it is clear that she has learned that the classes are not all the same. She feels profoundly uneasy and out of place as she walks among the shoddy cottages of the poor. She has the sensitivity to be mortified at wearing such an expensive hat amid all the poverty, and she sees the gift of the leftovers she brings as patronizing and insulting to the dead family.

Laura wants to smooth everything over into a pretty picture that can help her feel comfortable about her life. As she gazes at the body of the dead worker she thinks:

Happy... happy... All is well, said that sleeping face. This is just as it should be. I am content.

Of course, her "sob" and her apology for her hat show that everything is not as it should be, and she is not content.

Laura is changing and growing in her awareness of the class divide, but she has not completely rejected her family's values. She is easily tempted by the hat, and she is disturbed but uncertain about the inchoate thoughts that bubble up despite her desire to see the workman's death as "marvelous." She says to Laurie:

"Isn't life," she stammered, "isn't life ... she couldn't explain."

At this point, like her family, Laura can't explore class issues in a way that would motivate her to make changes. Class issues disturb her, but she simply wants to get away from them.

It is ambiguous whether or not Laurie really understands her, although she thinks that "he quite understood." I would argue he does not, since she doesn't even understand herself. As with the dead man, she wants to smooth things over, so she decides that Laurie understands.

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