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

What does the young lady's mother do for the deceased man's family in "The Garden Party: And Other Stories"?

Quick answer:

The story is about the working class: how it exists, how it is thought of by those who are not part of it, how little the two classes have in common with each other.

Expert Answers

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Laura Sheridan wants to cancel the garden party her family is giving that day when she hears about the death of the workman who lived nearby. Her mother talks her out of it by offering her a beautiful new hat to wear to it.

After the party is over, Laura's father mentions that the death was "horrible" and notes that the man left behind a wife and children. At this point, Mrs. Sheridan has one of her "brilliant ideas." She suggests that they send the widow and children a basket of leftovers from the party:

all those sandwiches, cakes, puffs, all uneaten, all going to be wasted

Mrs. Sheridan imagines it will be a "great treat" for the dead man's children and will give the neighbors who might visit something to eat. Laura, however, wonders if this is truly a good idea:

To take scraps from their party. Would the poor woman really like that?

Nevertheless, Laura carries the basket to the workman's home, where she is forced to confront the reality of grief and death.

The story is about the class system. Laura begins the day by interacting with the workmen and finds them so pleasant she thinks she would like to have them for friends. She decides the problem is "these absurd class distinctions." She says she doesn't feel them, not "an atom." But at the end of the story, when she is on workman's turf with her basket of leftovers, surrounded by his relatives and neighbors, she feels acutely uncomfortable and out of place. She is embarrassed about the frivolous hat she loved earlier in the day, with its black streamers. As she delivers the food, she feels the class difference acutely.

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