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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Discussion Topic

Laura's relationship and differences with her family in "The Garden Party"

Summary:

Laura's relationship with her family in "The Garden Party" is marked by closeness to her brother Laurie and detachment from her mother. While Mrs. Sheridan is class-conscious and dismissive of Laura's feelings, Laurie comforts Laura and shares her empathy for others, regardless of class. This indicates a warm bond between the siblings and an aloof relationship with their mother.

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In "The Garden Party," what is Laura's relationship with her family?

While we can certainly be sure that Laura loves all her family members--we do love our families regardless of their faults and actions--it is obvious that she is closer to her brother, Laurie, than to her mother. 

Mrs. Sheridan's chief concern for the day is whether or not there will be enough lilies for the party and that the working class man who has died did not do so in her garden where the party is to be held.  She is extremely class conscious and berates Laura for wanting to cancel the party out of respect to the grieving neighbors by saying that the man won't be brought back to life for her sentimentality.  Mrs. Sheridan is standoffish and not very motherly.  It appears that she is more concerned with the party arrangements than she is her daughter's feelings which indicates to me an aloof relationship. 

Laurie, Laura's brother, meets her on the way back from the dead man's home.  Laura has gone there to bring a basket of left over goodies to the grieving family and has been affected by the scene.  Laurie comforts Laura, and although it is not certain if the two understand their feelings or even if the death has changed them, it is clear that they have a close family bond and share a respect for one another and others--regardless of class status.  Laura definitely has a close relationship with her brother.

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In "The Garden Party," what is Laura's relationship with her family?

Check the link below for help with your answer.  You may also want to visit the study guide to this story with regard to characters.

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How does Laura differ from her family in "The Garden Party"?

One point of contrast between Laura and her family members in "The Garden Party" lies in her level of care and philosophical insight.

Laura is different than her family members because she cares and is willing to show it. Even at the start of the story, Laura is willing to converse with the workers, listening and showing care towards their insights.  She does not show disrespect to the workers.  She does not exhibit the same attitudes as her family members towards those who are "lower" on the social spectrum.  

The strongest example of Laura's care is her reaction to young man's death.  Her first reaction is to cancel the garden party. Laura cannot fathom how a celebration could take place in the midst of death.  Her family members do not share her reaction.  Jose disagrees with Laura's idea:

"Stop the garden-party? My dear Laura, don't be so absurd. Of course we can't do anything of the kind. Nobody expects us to. Don't be so extravagant."

Jose enhances this with her belief that Laura "won't bring a drunken workman back to life by being sentimental." Mrs. Sheridan seems "amused" with Laura's proposition, communicating more affection towards the hat that Laura wears than the fact that someone has died. 

While Laura's caring demeanor is different than that of her family members, her philosophical insight is also a point of contrast.  Laura's reaction towards death is much more profound than her family's.  It is one that defies the simplistic notions that her family members possess. When she returns from the service, Laura's thoughts about life and death reflect engagement and philosophical insight that her family members lack:

"No," sobbed Laura. 'It was simply marvelous. 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.

While Laurie does comfort her at the end, it is not clear if he really understands what she means. Throughout the story, he has not communicated the depth that she has voiced.  In her level of emotional expression and her willingness to accept the philosophical depth regarding the unexplainable aspects of life, Laura is different from her family members.

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