The Garden Party: Characters & Quotes

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson describes the relationships of the main characters in Katherine Mansfield's short story 'The Garden Party.' We will analyze some of the quotations that best illustrate their characteristics.

'The Garden Party'

Katherine Mansfield's 1922 short story 'The Garden Party' is about a family preparing to hold a party in their lavish garden. Their preparations are interrupted briefly by the news that someone who lives nearby was killed and a debate over whether they should proceed with the party ensues. It ends when Laura, one of the daughters in the Sheridan family, goes to visit the family of the man who was killed. The story highlights issues of gender and class as Laura finds herself caught between social expectations and her own conscience.

Katherine Mansfield is the author of The Garden Party
Katherine Mansfield is the author of The Garden Party

Laura

Laura Sheridan is the protagonist, or main character, of the story. Her reaction to the news of a neighbor being killed in an accident shows how she is beginning to notice that she has different perspectives and values from her family. There are several quotes from the story that illustrate Laura's relationship with her family and her social circle.

The descriptions of the Sheridan home and garden indicate their high social status
A mansion garden

When Laura talks to the workmen who are helping set up for the party she thinks, ''Oh, how extraordinarily nice workmen were, she thought. Why couldn't she have workmen for her friends rather than the silly boys she danced with and who came to Sunday night supper?'' She feels that these men are more laid back and easier to talk to than the boys she is used to spending time with. She goes on to think, ''It's all the fault. . . of these absurd class distinctions. Well, for her part, she didn't feel them. Not a bit, not an atom. . .''

Though Laura thinks she does not pay attention to class distinctions, she contradicts herself soon after by deliberately acting a certain way to emphasize her casual attitude about class: ''Just to show the tall fellow how at home she felt, and how she despised these stupid conventions, Laura took a big bite of her bread-and-butter as she stared at the little drawing. She felt just like a work-girl.'' Laura wants to feel like she is part of the workmen's social sphere, but taking a big bite out of her food is not really enough to make her truly know what it's like to be part of the working class. Though Laura sympathizes with other groups and wants to identify with them, she is rather naïve to ignore her lifetime of privilege.

Later in the story, she shows her awareness and sensitivity to class differences when she approaches the house of the man who died and wishes she wasn't wearing such nice clothing: ''She wished now she had put on a coat. How her frock shone!. . . Were the people looking at her?''

When Laura sees the man who died, she is overcome by how peaceful he looks, and she thinks about the frivolous things she was doing at the party while he laid there: ''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.'' Laura, though inexperienced in interactions outside of her social class, seems to want to identify with lower or working class people because they seem kinder and more genuine to her.

Mrs. Sheridan

Laura's mother's purpose seems to be a sharp contrast to Laura. When Laura suggests canceling the party because of their neighbor's death, she scoffs and replies, ''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.'' She clearly has certain ideas about the expectations and rules associated with social class and does not feel obligated to change her plans because of the man's death.

She insists on continuing with the party and gives us a glimpse of her hypocrisy by commenting after the party, ''I'm exhausted. . . But oh, these parties, these parties! Why will you children insist on giving parties!'' When it was she who insisted.

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