Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One can appreciate Mansfield’s craft by noting the various ways in which she balances the “class distinctions” with which Laura grapples. The perfectly maintained garden provides escape from the less appealing working-class neighborhood, but it is working people who provide its necessary labor. The family diverts itself with canna lilies, finger sandwiches, party dresses, and cream puffs, but their pleasures are repeatedly interrupted. Laura’s mind entertains the perspective of both classes. Although some writers would present ideas about class distinctions in the form of satire, Mansfield fashions “The Garden Party” to suggest—rather than to state—themes. There is such a fluid movement to the story—and such an upbeat mood—that a reader, like Laura herself, may almost be distracted from serious matters such as poverty and death.

Managing point of view is one of the techniques that Mansfield uses to plant her ironies. The happiness in the opening paragraph turns out to be part of the complacency of the upper class. Note the breathless wording: “Hundreds, yes, literally hundreds [of roses], have come out in a single night.” Such language has no place in the Scott house, where Mrs. Scott’s swollen red face cows Laura. The reader, therefore, learns to doubt some of the statements, and to consider from which character’s perspective they originate. One senses Jose’s practicality when she uses the word “extravagant” to dismiss Laura’s enthusiasm; likewise, one senses Mrs. Scott’s grief in the questions going through her mind as Laura faces her.

The technique known as “stream-of-consciousness” developed in the early twentieth century as a result of the influential psychological theories of such persons as Sigmund Freud and William James. Writers such as Mansfield use it to make words show the workings of the mind, rather than merely summarize a character’s thoughts. In “The Garden Party,” Mansfield mainly presents Laura’s mind at work, but one must be careful to notice shifts to other characters’ minds, as well as to the “mind” at work in passages such as the first paragraph, in which the Sheridan family—or the upper class—outlook appears. Finally, one admires Mansfield’s handling of detail. When Laura says that the marquee belongs on the lily-lawn, one workman “thrust[s] out his under-lip” and another frowns. These actions characterize the men and reveal what Laura notices. They are also part of the comic moment that culminates as a workman suggests a location that would be more “conspicuous”—that is, in keeping with the values of her class.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party" was written in 1922 during the period between the two world wars. In many ways it reflects the...

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Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Katherine Mansfield's short story "The Garden Party" employs a style that is distinctly modern in its use of...

(The entire section is 817 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"The Garden-Party" belongs to Mansfield's last group of stories. A number of these stories are held together by plot, what critic Joanne...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1920s: With the advent of the modernist movement, writers, artists, and musicians struggled to express the alienation they...

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Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Investigate the literary movement of Modernism in the 1920s. You may want to consult sources such as A...

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Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Theocritus's XVth idyll serves as a literary precedent for the shape of "The Garden-Party." In that dramatic poem, two young women visit the...

(The entire section is 230 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Like "Prelude" and "At the Bay," "The Garden-Party" is based on events that occurred in New Zealand during Mansfield's youth. In 1907, the...

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Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

"The Garden Party" was adapted as a film in 1974. It is now available on video through AIMS Multimedia.

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What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Bliss and Other Stories (1920), The Garden Party and Other Stories(1922), The Doves Nest and Other...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Fulbrook, Kate. "Late Fiction," in Katherine Mansfield, Harvester Press, 1986, pp. 86-128.


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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bell, Barbara Currier. “Non-Identical Twins: Nature in ‘The Garden Party’ and ‘The Grave.’” The Comparatist 12 (May, 1988): 58-66. Examines the meaning of nature in both short stories. Provides insight into Mansfield’s use of nature in most of her short fiction.

Boddy, Gillian. Katherine Mansfield: The Woman and the Writer. New York: Penguin Books, 1988. An extensive biography of Mansfield. Discusses her life in the context of her writings and experiences.

Daly, Saralyn R. Katherine Mansfield. New York: Twayne, 1965. Chapter 6 is the most useful in terms of understanding themes and meanings; however the entire book lends insight into Mansfield as a writer.

Kaplan, Sydney Janet. Katherine Mansfield and the Origins of Modernist Fiction. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991. Chapter 8 offers another tool for analysis of Mansfield’s characters. Stresses that a feminist approach is applicable to the interpretation of her works.

Rohrberger, Mary. The Art of Katherine Mansfield. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1977. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 are principally concerned with explaining the themes and techniques used in The Garden Party and Other Stories and other short stories. Extensive bibliographic notes and index.