‘The Garden Party’ by Katherine Mansfield deals with petty social snobbery and class consciousness. In the story, excited, last minute preparations are being made by the rich, middle-class Sheridans for their party. The story centres on the emotions of Laura who is free-thinking and impulsive. In the whirl of pre-party excitement and anticipation, Laura learns of the accidental death of a labourer who lived in a nearby cottage. She wants to cancel the party, but her family persuades her against it. Instead, she charitably takes a basket of left-over food down to the dead man’s cottage.
Laura’s first contact with death, coming as soon as it does so soon after the euphoria of the party, leaves her confused and tearful, but strangely full of wonder. The trip to the cottage has given her a new perspective on her rich, privileged lifestyle: she feels guilt but at the same time cannot help enjoying its luxuries. Bit the story is more than pure social commentary. Mansfield explained that ‘The Garden Party’ deals with:
The diversity of life and how we try to fit in everything. Death included. That is bewildering to a person of Laura’s age. She feels things ought to happen differently. First one and then another. But life isn’t like that. We haven’t the ordering of it.
Laura comes to recognise the helplessness and equality of all humankind in the face of death, but as yet she cannot assimilate her experience into a picture of life as a whole. When discussing the visit with her brother she is too confused to express her feelings coherently: “Isn’t life,” she stammered, “isn’t life -” But what life was she couldn’t explain. No matter. he quite understood.” And the reader is left similarly confused, unsure – as in real life – of the true significance of random events.