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Class Relations in The Garden Party

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we examine class relations from the short story ''The Garden Party'' by Katherine Mansfield. The story is about the socially elite throwing a garden party in the immediate wake of a tragedy suffered by their less fortunate neighbors.

Background

Think for a minute about living in the upper class. How might your world view be different from someone who lives in extreme poverty? The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield is the story of a garden party hosted by the wealthy Sheridan family. Tragedy strikes the impoverished cottages down the road, and the family is forced to make a decision. Let's examine class relations as they are portrayed in this story.

The Workers

As Laura Sheridan sets up her garden party, she is impressed by the friendly workers. They have such nice eyes and smiles that she has a hard time maintaining her business-like attitude. Despite wishing that she could have men like this as friends, rather than the ones that are invited to her family's dinner parties and dances, Laura questions whether or not it is respectful for them to speak to her in slang.

The narrator remarks how much Jose, Laura's sister, ''loved giving orders to the servants, and they loved obeying her,'' although Jose is not above complimenting the cook when warranted. The house workers also take on the role of protecting Laura from going outside and witnessing the death of the man from the cottages.

Although the relationships between the Sheridans and the people who work for them is friendly and even somewhat protective, it is clear that the Sheridans do not consider their workers as equals.

The Cottages

The cottages below the Sheridan's estate are considered an eyesore with their chocolate brown color, patchy gardens, sick hens, and children running around everywhere. As young children, the Sheridans were not allowed to go in that area ''because of the revolting language and of what they might catch.'' When Jose hears about the accident that killed the man, leaving behind a wife and five children, she automatically assumes that the man was drunk.

Laura is tempted to cancel the party out of consideration for the family of the deceased man, but her mother dismisses the idea. She remarks that she ''can't understand how they keep alive in those poky little holes.'' She further scolds Laura by saying, ''People like that don't expect sacrifices from us. And it's not very sympathetic to spoil everybody's enjoyment as you're doing now.''

The Sheridans don't know a lot about the people who live in the cottages, but they have made assumptions that the people who live there are at fault for their living conditions. Further, if the issue doesn't affect them directly (like someone dying on their property), it should not affect their attitude or good time.

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Practice:
Class Relations in The Garden Party Quiz

Instructions: Choose an answer and click 'Next'. You will receive your score and answers at the end.

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Why isn't Laura allowed to go near the cottages when she is younger in The Garden Party?

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