In Katherine Mansfield's story "The Garden Party," symbolism and imagery are used through the motif of flowers to illustrate the setting: the home of a well-to-do, rich, and opulent family celebrating a garden party hosted by a coming-of-age daughter who has never seen a world outside of her own.
The imagery of the lilies is apparent in the following descriptions:
canna lilies, big pink flowers, wide open, radiant, almost frighteningly alive on the bright crimson stems ...
the green bushes bowed down as though they had been visited by archangels.
The lilies thus denote opulence, richness, extravagance, and a feeling of fortune.
The Sheridans are, indeed, extremely and extravagantly fortunate! Imagine having nothing else to worry about during the day than putting together a garden party for the sake of having your teenage daughter feel useful!
Words such as lilies and archangels elicit purity and innocence. Laura is indeed innocent. She has been sheltered all her life, which was customary of many young ladies of that time, and all she knows is to feel safe, protected, and taken care of.
The irony of the story comes when a man is killed a short distance away. The man was a carter who lived in the poor cottages of workers. He left behind a wife and five children. The response of the members of the party is to send Laura, who organized the garden party, to take food leftovers for the family of the deceased carter, Mr. Scott, and show her condolences this way.
The imagery we are shown in descriptions of the Scotts' neighborhood is one of dramatic contrast to the bright, cheerful, colorful party at the Sheridan's garden. The beautiful, lush garden party is described with positive tones of prosperity, blessedness, and wealth. In contrast, descriptions of the ugly dwellings of the poor denote entitlement, antipathy, and disgust.
They were the greatest possible eyesore, and they had no right to be in that neighborhood at all. They were little mean dwellings .... In the garden patches, there was nothing but cabbage stalks, sick hens, and tomato cans. The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty-stricken.
Therefore, the use of symbolism and imagery as literary devices is quite effective in conveying the theme of social inequality that permeates the story.