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 issues can be found in the short story "The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield?

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Katherine Mansfield packs several issues worthy of contemplation into her short story "The Garden Party." The relationship between social classes, peer pressure and social status, standing for one's beliefs, family relationships, and the mystery of death all come into play as the story unfolds. First, the garden party is being put on by the Sheridans, who are wealthy and part of an upscale social class. Laura learns that a neighbor who lives down the hill from the Sheridans has died in a "horrible accident." She feels it would be insensitive to have the party now, but her family members see no connection between themselves and the death in a family who they don't associate with and who are of a much lower societal bracket. The family holds the party as planned, and afterward the mother awkwardly has Laura bring leftover sandwiches to the bereaved family. The contrast between the ways of life between the two families is an important issue raised in the story.

Laura feels very uncomfortable in the first part of the story; she feels it is wrong to celebrate so blatantly with no regard to their neighbor's troubles. But as the party goes forward, Laura's friends and family overwhelm her compunctions. The family doesn't feel they can disappoint their friends for someone they don't know. Laura believes at first that her older brother, whom she respects greatly, will support her point of view, but when he doesn't, she finds it impossible to stick with her initial beliefs. As Laura begins to get compliments on her looks and her hat, she succumbs to the pressure of her family and friends to immerse herself in the activities of their "upper crust" party. 

Still, after the party, Laura visits the home of the dead man, and his family invites her in. She had no intention of viewing the corpse, but the sister of the dead man's wife ushers her in, and Laura can hardly refuse. Laura has possibly never seen a dead person before, at least not one so young, and she is amazed at how beautiful and peaceful he seems. She tries to express her jumbled feelings to her brother, Laurie, by starting, "Isn't life--" but she cannot explain herself. Laurie agrees, but it is not at all clear that he truly understands what she wanted to express. The idea that life and death are inexpressible mysteries is the final issue of the story. 

In this story, through the character of Laura, readers grapple with issues of social class interactions, peer pressure and standing for what one believes in, family relationships, and the mysteries of life and death.

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