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 Laura imply about life in this quote from "The Garden Party"?

"Don't cry," (Laurie) said in his warm, loving voice. "Was it awful?" "No," sobbed Laura. "It was simple 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. No matter. He quite understood. "Isn't it, darling?" said Laurie."

Expert Answers

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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.

The key to the explanation of the quote lies in the passage quoted above that is narrated while Laura is looking at the reposing body of the dead carter. She perceives him as one who is in a peaceful dream, a restful dream of happiness from which no harm or dismay can ever awaken him. In this perception, she sees him as a marvel, as something wonderful that has come silently into the neighborhood while the noise of the garden party distracted everyone from seeing his peace and restfulness enter.

Laura has two simultaneous epiphanies. The first is that death can be for the departed one an occasion for rest from the woes of life, this is what is a marvel. The second is that life is a much bigger place than she had ever imagined. Life is a place where the enjoyment of a garden party, the success of a garden party, the charm of a black hat with velvet ribbons is unimportant and meaningless next to the immortal qualities of life. This is why she first says the experience was "marvelous" and why she then says "isn't life--"; and Laurie somehow understands.

However an unspoken contradiction remains because the previous image of the man's wife weeping in utter bitter distraction before the fire remains as a burdensome cloud over Laura's and Laurie's understanding of life being--

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