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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What are examples of modernism in Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party"?

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As with many works of modernist literature, "The Garden Party" has a fairly straightforward plot. And yet, beneath the simple surface, there is a lot more going on. This itself is one of the key characteristics of literary modernism: the notion that what's really important in life lies buried beneath the surface of our daily existence.

Related to this idea is the epiphany, the moment of sudden realization that often crops up in modernist works. In "The Garden Party," such a "moment of being", as another modernist writer Virginia Woolf called such experiences, takes place when Laura suddenly changes her mind about going to her party when she sees herself in the mirror, all dressed up in her pretty dress and brand new hat.

In that brief moment, Laura gains a new sense of self-awareness, a realization that the glittering surface of life that she'd previously taken for the reality is really no such thing. For the first time in her short life, she senses that she has the right to feel good, to enjoy herself, and to be admired for her beauty.

Laura enjoys, if that's the right word, another epiphany at the end of the story. This takes place when she responds to the sight of her dead neighbor with an apparently inappropriate degree of elation. Once again, in time-honored modernist fashion, Laura has experienced an epiphany that reveals something important about the human condition. In this case, it's the realization that death is nothing more than sleep.

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