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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Student Question

In "The Garden Party," what do you think Laura was about to say?

Quick answer:

The tale ends with Laura's recognition of the transcendent qualities of Mr. Scott's face and her attempt to articulate them: "But he was only a bailiff; that was all the world thought about him, except his mother and his sisters. He had been a very fine young man once, but it was all over now." The final words are her attempt to describe this transcendent quality in him, but she fails to do so. The words "but it was all over now" may refer to her thoughts about how Mr. Scott is no longer alive or they may refer to the fact that he is no longer a fine young man like he used to be - or both at once.

Expert Answers

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At the end of the tale, we are left with a sense of the inadequacy of words to describe a transcendent experience. Laura has just experienced a radically different world from her own world of parties, lilies and black hats. She has seen the corpse of the unfortunate Mr. Scott and has been struck by the peace and serenity of his countenance - something very different from her own experience of life:

Oh, so remote, so peaceful. He was dreaming. Never wake him up again. His head was sunk in the pillow, his eyes were closed; they were blind under the closed eyelids. He was given up to his dream. 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.

It is this sense of the massive difference between her superficial world and the deep serenity of Mr. Scott that Laura tries to express in her final words, as she tries to give voice to the emptiness of their lives and the unattainable transcendent world beyond that Mr. Scott has attained.

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