In Kate Mansfield's story "The Garden Party", why can't Laura finish her sentence at the end of the story?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A representative of Kate Mansfield's style, "The Garden" party is a story where self-realization, social differentiation, coming of age, and life discoveries are thematic key elements.

Set in the home of the Sheridans, an upper-class New Zealand family, the story tells of the clan's preoccupation of producing a very delightful garden party. Following suit with the traditions of those whose wealth affords them social rights of passage, the Sheridan's "of age" daughter Laura is placed with the prestigious responsibility of acting as the hostess of such party.

Along with this sudden placement of responsibility, Laura also experiences other things for the first time in her life. She begins to understand and notice the marked differences between her family and the rest of the world which surrounds her. She notices that there is richness, garden parties, and fancy people; however, there is also the dark side of this: there is also poverty, sickness, and misery. This latter part comes to life when Laura learns of the death of the local carter. When Laura suggests the cancellation of the party, she is met with the criticism of everyone involved in it. Why bother if some lesser individual dies? The party is the priority.  

After the party, Laura is given another responsibility: to take leftovers and flowers to the widow of the carter. Having just finished a charming and elegant party, Laura's feelings of inadequacy intensify. It is a first look at herself about to take enter a world that is completely different from her own. The entrance in the dark, poor, sad home of the dead carter, symbolizes Laura's coming into maturity and reality; it is also allegorical of the paradox of how life and death co-exist together in one same cycle. As she enters, not only does she experience the shock of reality but, for the first time, she sees life for what it really is, away from the safety and blindness under which she had lived.

Seeing the dead man on his deathbed, all prepared to be buried, heightened Laura's feelings of attraction, love, emotion, sadness, fear, and wonder. She sees a dead man who looks beautifully ready to be forever laid to rest; and she realizes that such is life. Yet, she cannot describe "what" life is, exactly.

Therefore, the entire story is symbolic of how life operates in phases through the eyes of a young woman who finally discovers it. The overwhelming sensations bring her to tears, and the understanding of it all leave her speechless. So speechless that, even without saying a word, even her brother understands her.

"Don't cry," he said in his warm, loving voice. "Was it awful?"

"No," sobbed Laura. "It was simply marvellous. But Laurie--" She stopped, she looked at her brother. "Isn't life," she stammered, "isn't life--" But what life was she couldn't explain. No matter. He quite understood.

"Isn't it, darling?" said Laurie.

ferdy33 | Student

i think that is the purpose of the story .. for you to think the end of the phrase .. and for you to end the story .. :D 

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

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