The Garden Party: And Other Stories Critical Overview
by Katherine Mansfield

The Garden Party: And Other Stories book cover
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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Formal garden design with rectangualr middle with small shrub borders and grass in the center. Published by Gale Cengage

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...

(The entire section is 510 words.)