The Garden Party
By Katherine Mansfield
The protagonist of the story is Laura who cherishes lofty principles of compassions and care. Laura’s family includes her mother, Mrs. Sheridan, her sister, Jose, her father, Mr. Sheridan and her brother, Laurie. Apart from his brother all her family members are spoiled by their wealth and are insensitive to the pain of others.
The story begins with a party hosted by Laura’s family. The scene at her house is filled with frantic preparations under the warm summer Sun. Laura is bemused by the workers at the Party as their working class mannerisms and attitudes are alien to her world.
We learn that Laura’s neighbor, a young cart driver, dies on the same day. His name is Scott and he is survived by a wife and five children. On hearing about the tragedy, Laura empathizes with the grieving family and insists that the party should be cancelled or postponed. She is aggrieved at the thought of other’s plight and thinks that loud celebrations of her party would be disrespectful to the departed and his family.
In order to get the party cancelled she first approaches her sister. However, Jose is bitter with her comments saying that cancellation would not possibly bring the dead back to life. She is derogatory and hostile toward people from supposedly lower class. Next Laura turns to her mother, Mrs. Sheridan. She reacts in a similar vein to Jose. Interestingly, she gives Laura a black hat which distracts Laura as she consumed by her own beauty and vanity. Laura forgets about cancelling the party as she wants to be admired for her attire and looks.
The party goes as planned and Laura is the centre of everybody’s attention. Everything was going smoothly until Laura is reminded of the accidental death of her neighbor by her father’s comments. Laura decides to take the leftovers over to the worker’s widow on his mother’s insistence. Mrs. Sheridan, however, asks Laura to visit the mourners in her immaculate party attire only.
Visiting the grieving family
Laura reaches the place where the laborers lived. She finds the squalid ambience of the place completely opposite to the cheerful and celebratory mood of her house. It is gloomy and somber. Laura feels anxious and tries to leave the food at the door only and scamper back. She feels that she is dressed inappropriately for the occasion. But she is requested to stay by Scott’s family.
After meeting the widow, Laura goes to see the deceased body. To her utter amazement, she finds him peaceful and graceful. He seems like he is resting to heart’s content.
Laura feels embarrassed because of her presumptions and judgmental attitude and asks for the family’s forgiveness. She is overpowered by her emotions and leaves before going into a breakdown.
Laura sees the value of life and compassion
As she is living the place, she meets her brother. He consoles her as she breaks into tears. She is crying because she has finally understood the true meaning and value in living. Her brother concurs with her realization. They both acknowledge that there is more to the world and living than vain and flashy garden parties or other empty pleasures of grand lifestyle.
The story manifestly differentiates between innocence and corruption of spirit. It highlights the dangers of vanity that can cause people to get blinded with greed. It can lead to complete disregard for other people’s pain and tough conditions.
The veil of our desires and dreams can cloud our perception of reality. Laura goes through the experience of meeting a family in mourning and realizes the futility of superficial living and lavish garden parties. Her firsthand contact with the suffering of others encapsulates many of the issues that billions of people are still struggling with worldwide.