The Garden Party Summary

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Written between 1920 and 1922, ''The Garden Party'' still stands as author Katherine Mansfield's best-known story. In this lesson, we'll summarize this short tale about a family's decision to celebrate despite trouble around them.

Summarizing The Garden Party

It was a beautiful day for a garden party - at least, the Sheridans thought so. Meet the affluent Sheridan family from New Zealand. We know that they're wealthy socialites because the first bits of the story are concerned with the planning and preparations for an elaborate party. Workers have been hired to help with the set-up, an area has been set up for the band, flowers are being delivered and the cook is making elaborate sandwiches and cream puffs.

The weather was perfect for the Sheridans

Daughter, Laura, has been left in charge of the last-minute party plans. She is busy flitting about ensuring that every detail is to her mother's liking: the flowers are arranged just so, the food is perfectly prepared and the placement of the marquee doesn't impede the view of the lovely karaka-trees. Yet, Laura is equally as entertained by the workers themselves, enjoying their company though she knows she is in a different social class than they are.

Bad News Comes

As the party planning swings into high gear, an announcement from one of the workers changes the mood of the party scene. A nearby neighbor named Mr. Scott has been killed. The man, whose wife and five children survived him, was killed when he was thrown from a horse. It's a curious thing that a poor family lived so close to a family as wealthy as the Sheridans, close enough to be considered right outside the wealthy family's gate.

Laura is devastated and suggests canceling the party. To her dismay, Laura's mother refuses to cancel. She tells her daughter that she'll live a 'very strenuous' life if she opts to cancel a party every time an accident occurs. The mother even goes so far as to accuse the deceased man of being a drunkard. Regardless, the show must go on, the mother says, and the party preparations continue.


Laura is both saddened and angry at her family's lack of concern about the man and the social status that separates one clan from another. Laura is grieved at the thought of the man's widow hearing a party band playing and hosting a raucous party after such an untimely accident. Her mother, rather coldly, exclaims, 'People like that don't expect sacrifices from us.'

Realizing she has lost the battle, Laura continues on with her mother's wishes and the party is considered a success.

The After-Party

Once the party has concluded, the Sheridan family's thoughts turn once again to Mr. Scott's widow and her children. Mrs. Sheridan thinks it appropriate and a neighborly gesture to package up the remaining party food and take it to the Scotts' home. Laura, again, isn't so sure that it's a great idea. Yet, she collects the basket for the treats and does as her mother wishes.

Laura's journey to the less fortunate area of her neighborhood has her, again, reconsidering her decision. People are looking at her strangely! Surely, her party dress and hat are too much for an errand such as this. Laura sees yet another instance of the class separation between the poor and the wealthy.

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