What is the significance of "The Garden Party"'s vague ending?
About Mansfield's ending to her short story, critic Warren Walker remarks, "[It]leaves readers with a feeling of dissatisfaction, a vague sense that the story somehow does not realize its potential." While Walker's remarks hold verity, at the same time, it is apparent that Laura has had some epiphany albeit rather romanticized. And, it is left to the reader to interpret Laura's realization, a fact that may just be Mansfield's intention.
Laura does, indeed, understand class distinction; in fact, she makes a remark about it after enjoying the workman's smelling of lavender,
How many men that she knew would have done such a thing? Oh, how extraordinarily nice workmen were, she thought. Why couldn't she have workmen for her friends rather than the silly boys she danced with....?
Laura is also impressed with the workmen's informal manner of speaking as one calls the other "mate"; she remarks upon the "friendliness of it." For a moment, Laura has felt a closeness to the workmen who have been more natural and earthy. So, after learning of the fatal accident of one of the residents of the cottages at the bottom of the steep rise, Laura feels her garden party should not be held as it would be disrespectful to the dead. Naturally, Laura's mother tells her that the party will go on despite this tragedy. Laura is distraught momentarily, but her mother distracts her with a lovely hat.
After the party, Laura returns and is again absorbed in her insulated environment. But her pleasure is shattered by her father's remark about the death of a workman who lived below them. This time, Laura's mother sends Laura with flowers and food. When Laura enters the home of the deceased driver, she is first taken to see the grief-stricken and pitiable widow. Then, she is led to the room where the dead man lies. There, Laura has a sense of mystery as she gazes upon the face of the man; and, because she has not suffered, Laura cannot understand the tragedy that has just occurred. Instead, she romanticizes the man's actions:
While they were laughing and while the band was playing, this marvel had come to the lane. Happy ... happy ... All is well, said that sleeping face. This is just as it should be. I am content.
Laura has felt some of the great drama of life; however, since she has never known suffering, she lacks the emotive powers and words to interpret the poor driver's tragedy further:
"Isn't life," she stammered, "isn't life--"