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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Why does Laura say "Forgive my hat" to Mr. Scott's body in "The Garden Party"?

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This part of the story comes when Laura takes a basketful of food to the Scott family as a token of sympathy for the death of Mr. Scott, who died in an accident that morning. As she goes in to see the body, even though she would rather just leave and go without seeing the corpse, she is struck by the immense tranquillity and beauty that she sees in the face of the corpse:

He was wonderful, beautiful. While they were laughing and while the band was playing, this marvel had come to the lane. Happy... happy... Al is well, said that sleeping face. This is just as it should be. I am content.

This is an immense surprise to Laura who sees his peacefulness as a rebuke on the frivolous garden party that she and her family have just given. However, in spite of this beauty and peace that the body exudes, she feels the pressure to cry and to say something to him. Clearly overwhelmed with the epiphany that she has experienced, Laura mumbles the first thing that comes to her mind, which is the fact that she had not removed her hat in the presence of the dead (a cultural norm). This is why she says, "Forgive my hat" before leaving.

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