What is an important theme in "The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An important theme in Mansfield's "The Garden Party" centers on individual identity.

One theme in Mansfield's short story concerns the formation of individual identity. Laura displays this theme throughout the narrative. At the story's outset, she seems comfortable with people from the working class. She finds the workers setting up the garden party to be "extraordinarily nice," preferring their company to the "silly boys she danced with and who came to Sunday night supper." Upon hearing of the worker's death, she finds it offensive to have the garden party. She is "astonished" at the banal reactions of Jose and her mother. Laura believes the party should be cancelled because of her identification with the working class.  

As the story progresses, Laura's working-class identity is not as evident. Laura is hesitant about taking the basket to the deceased worker's family, asking her mother if it is "a good idea." Laura is visibly uncomfortable when she visits the mourning family. She calls out for God's help and apologizes for her hat. As Laura stares at the worker's corpse, she struggles with even larger issues of identity:

What did garden-parties and baskets and lace frocks matter to him? He was far from all those things. He was wonderful, beautiful. 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.

When she arrives back, readers are not sure what Laura's identity is. She "stammers" in a statement that might articulate thoughts about life. Like Laura's identity, that statement is muddled.

What Laura believes and how she will go about living her life are central questions at the end of "The Garden Party." They attest to the importance of the theme of identity in Mansfield's short story.

Read the study guide:
The Garden Party: And Other Stories

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