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 literary techniques are used in "The Garden Party"?

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In "The Garden Party," the most salient literary techniques are symbolism and imagery. The flowers symbolize innocence and the glamorous life of the Sheridans. Symbolism and imagery are used with equal effectiveness to describe the miserable life of the Scott family, whose patriarch has just died. These two devices descriptively point out the differences between these two families, highlighting the unfairness of social inequality.

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In “The Garden Party,” Mansfield uses imagery to say something about the characters and their place within society. For instance, the pretty flowers that adorn Laura's hat immediately mark her out as a member of the well-to-do, respectable middle class.

Then we have her family's garden, which is a place of beauty and entertainment, as well as an outward expression of their wealth and social status. Only those as wealthy as the Sheridans would ever be able to afford to throw such a lavish party in their back garden.

For the Scotts, the poor near-neighbors of the upper-crust Sheridans, it's a different matter entirely. Their poverty is represented by the image of the basket of leftovers from the party that Laura takes to them. For the Sheridans, as we have seen, the garden is a sign of their wealth and high social status. But for the Scotts, the Sheridans' garden, with its giant marquee full of party guests, is a source of food.

Laura fills her basket with uneaten puffs, sandwiches, and cakes and goes to the Scotts. The image of the food-laden basket expresses the class relations between the two families and, by extension, class relations in general in this hierarchical society. The poor, as represented by the Scotts, no matter how hard-working they may be, need to rely on the wealthy for their daily bread.

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In Katherine Mansfield's story "The Garden Party," symbolism and imagery are used through the motif of flowers to illustrate the setting: the home of a well-to-do, rich, and opulent family celebrating a garden party hosted by a coming-of-age daughter who has never seen a world outside of her own.

The imagery of the lilies is apparent in the following descriptions:

canna lilies, big pink flowers, wide open, radiant, almost frighteningly alive on the bright crimson stems ...


the green bushes bowed down as though they had been visited by archangels.

The lilies thus denote opulence, richness, extravagance, and a feeling of fortune.

The Sheridans are, indeed, extremely and extravagantly fortunate! Imagine having nothing else to worry about during the day than putting together a garden party for the sake of having your teenage daughter feel useful!

Words such as lilies and archangels elicit purity and innocence. Laura is indeed innocent. She has been sheltered all her life, which was customary of many young ladies of that time, and all she knows is to feel safe, protected, and taken care of.

The irony of the story comes when a man is killed a short distance away. The man was a carter who lived in the poor cottages of workers. He left behind a wife and five children. The response of the members of the party is to send Laura, who organized the garden party, to take food leftovers for the family of the deceased carter, Mr. Scott, and show her condolences this way.

The imagery we are shown in descriptions of the Scotts' neighborhood is one of dramatic contrast to the bright, cheerful, colorful party at the Sheridan's garden. The beautiful, lush garden party is described with positive tones of prosperity, blessedness, and wealth. In contrast, descriptions of the ugly dwellings of the poor denote entitlement, antipathy, and disgust.

They were the greatest possible eyesore, and they had no right to be in that neighborhood at all. They were little mean dwellings .... In the garden patches, there was nothing but cabbage stalks, sick hens, and tomato cans. The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty-stricken.

Therefore, the use of symbolism and imagery as literary devices is quite effective in conveying the theme of social inequality that permeates the story.

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This story is an excellent example of the short story genre and shows how much an author can pack into a relatively small package. Mansfield uses a very wide array of literary techniques. Here are a few that you could consider in an examination of this story:

  • Imagery -- the descriptions of the flowers, the gardens, the preparations for the party, the clothing. All of these work together to create a scene of festive anticipation for a lovely party.
  • Imagery -- the descriptions of the walk down the street to the dead man's home and the actual interior of his house and his dead body laid out on the table. All these serve to show the extreme difference in mood and atmosphere from the first half of the story.
  • Irony -- that Laura, the youngest and most naive, is the one most matured by the realization about death she achieves by the end of the story.
  • Dialogue -- the conversations between Laura and her mother, Laura and the workers, Laura and the dead man's family, and Laura and her brother all serve to further characterize different facets of her dynamic character.
  • Symbolism -- her hat -- symbolizes the festive and "over the top" wealth and atmosphere of the garden party, and yet it is completely out of place at the dead man's wake.
  • Methods of characterization -- Mansfield uses a great variety of techniques here and blends them well: what Laura and/or other characters do, say, think, and what others think about her or them. There are many examples of each.
  • Light and Dark contrasting imagery to highlight the difference between the party and the wake.
  • Setting -- the garden party at the top of the hill -- the higher-ups versus, the wake at the bottom of the hill -- the lower class people.
  • Themes -- loss of innocence, social class differences and social class expectations, sympathy and empathy -- to name a few.

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