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Identity Formation In Mansfield’s The Garden Party

3832 words - 15 pages

  "The budding rose above the rose full blown," writes William Henry Wordsworth, elevating the process of emerging, changing and evolving over those already developed, established and matured. While Wordsworth’s remark regards a rose, the statement also accurately describes Katherine Mansfield’s protagonist in The Garden Party. The narrative focuses on a wealthy family from New Zealand, jaded by elite lifestyle and prominent social standing. The youngest daughter, Laura, "the budding rose" of the story, seeks to break the constraints of upper class society, causing her to be both more mature and compassionate than other members of her well to do family.

Laura’s internal struggle, the main conflict of Mansfield’s story, is one of identity, and she oscillates between imitating environmental influences and reacting to them in a manner that is unique to her individual personality. Throughout the course of the story, the pendulum of her conscience swings to converse sides, causing her actions to be inconsistent and without allegiance to either her family’s upperclass exclusive ways or to her inherent qualities of equality and empathy. This varying behavior causes critics to dispute over Laura’s "true" personality, motives and objectives. While some critics believe that her sympathetic efforts are an attempt at rebelling from the expectations of her class, others believe that she is an empathetic individual without a supportive family. Another group of critics believe that the story presents only the initiation of Laura’s kindness, suggesting that she will continue to flourish into a compassionate person on the outskirts of upper class society; others refute this view, stating that The Garden Party portrays the extent of Laura’s depth and compassion, and she will more than likely conform to upper class perfection. These critics can cite no specific evidence that supports solely their opinions, however, and each cites the same examples from the text, using them to sustain an array of different interpretations. Mansfield created the story with the intention of allowing it to be open for various interpretations; though she includes specific detail concerning the characters Mansfield does not elucidate them in a manner that clearly defines their personalities. The story, like the budding rose, is one that never peaks to maturity, but rather remains in the developing stage because of its ambiguities which cause it to be discussed and interpreted in many varying ways.

The Sheridans are an affluent family of New Zealand; they are prominent and social, often hosting parties and luncheons for other families of the same social rank. They live in a world protected from the realities of life such as poverty, death, and unhappiness, and this bubble contains all the joy, perfection, and grandeur that is stereotypically accompanied with having an abundance of wealth. As a whole, the Sheridan family is one-dimensional; they cannot see beyond their own way of...

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