The Garden Party Analysis
Katherine Mansfield, a short-lived writer with rare individual gifts is a famous name in the field of literature. Her publications are a few, but by these few she has been able to establish herself as an immortal short story writer. Through her short stories, she has presented the ordinary, lonely, pathetic people to us. Her characters are taken from different corners of society. They are presented to us with their intense internal and external conflicts. Sometimes they convey to us the harsh realities of life with bare social truth.
The Garden Party, one of her finest short stories is such mind-arresting story where she criticizes class distinctions in society. Let us now see how she has made a contrast between the rich and poor in The Garden Party. The story The Garden Party deals with an upper class teenage girl who faces the issue of class distinctions when she is unexpectedly broken by the news of the death of an underprivileged neighbour who perishes while she is busy with the preparations of a huge party.
The story opens in a fine morning. The Sheridan family is preparing for a garden party. The house is decorated beautifully. All the family members are busy. Mrs. Sheridan calls her youngest daughter Laura to give some direction to the workmen. Here, we find the first indication of class distinction. When the workman talks to Laura in an informal manner, she wonders if the man can speak to a girl of her status. However, later she likes the workmen and prefers them to silly boys who come at the party.
Next, we come to know that Sheridan children Laura, Jose, Meg and Laurie are not allowed to go near the poor neighbourhood. The neighbourhood is also described in a diminutive way. The death of a poor cart driver like Scott who is a neighbour of the Sheridans, brings out the social distinction. Several characters reveal their antagonism against the poorer section.
When Laura gets the news of a riding accident which causes the death of a young man from the indigent neighbourhood, she is deeply shocked and sets her mind on stopping the party and tries to convince her sister Jose and her mother of her intention. She goes to her elder sister Jose and tells her to stop the party. But Jose is surprised and she rebukes Laura for being absurd and emotional for such an incident. She becomes annoyed and tells her that if they are to stop the party every time for someone has an accident, they will lead a very strenuous life. She ironically expresses her sorrows and her eyes become hardened. Then she looks at her sister and softly tells her that she (Laura) is unable to bring a drunken workman back to life by being sentimental.
Then, she goes to her mother. Surprisingly, she finds her mother as an image of her sister. When she insists on stopping the party, her mother, like her sister, rebukes her calling her attitude as absurd. Mrs. Sheridan also tells Laura that people like Mr. Scott do not expect sympathy from them. Actually what she wants to say is that the lower-class people do not deserve pity. She chides Laura by saying that she is sympathetic to the dead but not to others by spoiling their enjoyment. Thus, Mrs. Sheridan as an aristocrat does not think that the death of a lower-class man can deserve the empathy of the upper-class people like them. Her attitude suggests the class distinction which prevails in society.
The author also shows class distinction in the descriptions of characters. Several characters of the story are given animal characteristics. The band playing at the party, for example resemble “frogs”, cook “clucked..like an agitated hen”, children “swarmed” presumably like bees, and the widow is described as “that poor creature”, Jose “coo[s]” and she resembles a “butterfly”. Even the smoke coming from the chimneys of the two types of household is contrasted: the lower class cottage smoke is described as “rags and shreds.. (and) poverty stricken”, whereas, by contrast, from Laura’s chimney come “great silvery plumes”.
The narrator does not miss any opportunity to describe and show class distinction. Thus, there are many ways in which class distinction is shown throughout the short story “The Garden Party”. Thus, by her adroit presentation of incidents and skillful delineation of characters, Katherine Mansfield has clearly conveyed the class distinctions present in society.