illustration of Laura wearing her mothers hat and holding a basket with a shadowy figure behind her

The Garden Party: And Other Stories

by Katherine Mansfield

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Critical Overview

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Critical attempts to interpret the story's conclusion have led to many analyses of its overall structure. In his article "Crashing the Garden Party, I: A Dream—A Wakening," Donald S. Taylor perceives the story as a narrative of Laura Sheridan's awakening from the comfortable but shallow existence that she has been living. Taylor thus views the lyrics of Jose's song as a foreshadowing of Laura's eventual awakening. Taylor attributes much of the responsibility for this dream-world to Mrs. Sheridan, who, he writes, "keeps the daughters in the dream by giving her daughters the illusion of maturity" in planning the garden party.

In the critical analyses that examine the story structurally—as a representation and negotiation of two worlds—Laura Sheridan is given much of the responsibility for her own growth or her own awakening. In this sense, "The Garden Party" is much like a bildungsroman—a story of individual growth and maturity. In his article "Crashing the Garden Party: The Garden Party of Proserpina," Daniel A. Weiss likens Laura's journey of self-awakening to Proserpina's journey to the underworld. In his reading, Saunders Lane is the underworld of death that Laura must journey to and return from as part of her initiation into life's ultimate mystery—death—and away from the dream world of her family.

In mapping out the mythic and autobiographical aspects of "The Garden Party," Anders Iversen compares Mansfield's story to a story written by Danish author I. P. Jacobsen. He sees the similarities between the two stories as structural; both deal with the contrasting worlds of rich and poor. These two worlds, Iversen argues, not only signify wealth and poverty but also life and death. While in Jacobsen's story there is no mediation between the two worlds, "The Garden Party" allows what Iversen calls a "moment of contact" between the world of life—the Sheridans—and the world of death—Saunders Lane. This moment of contact is made by Laura Sheridan, who alone ventures forth from what Iversen has characterized as her personal "garden of Eden" to what is beyond the garden—the world of the Scotts. Iversen understands this journey as a "rite of passage," one of the fundamental ingredients of the bildungsroman.

Rather than analyzing "The Garden Party" through the lens of mythic archetype, feminist critics such as Kate Fulbrook take a more psychological and political view of the story and of the character of Laura Sheridan in particular. In her essay Fulbrook presents Laura's struggle with the class values of her parents as a struggle with her own identity. She views Laura as caught between a sense of herself as an outsider within her own family and her vanity—particularly after she has seen herself in her black hat, when she thinks it impossible to cancel the garden party. Interestingly, Fulbrook interprets Mansfield's representation of Laura's moral confusion as an indictment of "the inadequacy of education of 'the daughters of educated men'"—an indictment, which, as Fulbrook notes, is "deepened by the story's account of the suffering taking place below the Sheridan's privileged hill."

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Essays and Criticism