What Laura Didn't Learn In The Garden Party

1958 words - 8 pages

At the conclusion of The Garden Party, Laura is exposed to a side of life she has never encountered before, and comes to a sudden realization that "life and death may indeed coexist and that their common existence in one world may be beautiful" (Magalaner 101). Death is not necessarily associated with ugliness, she learns, but rather it is a natural process which she likens to sound, peaceful sleep. However, her ostensible epiphany is really only astonishment. Laura’s world revolves around the finer things in life, garden parties, and flowers, and she has been surrounded by beauty her whole life. Her social class is too ingrained in her for a momentary glimpse of the contrasting life of the lower class to really affect her (Sorkin 445).

Laura, the main character of The Garden Party, acts as the narrator and provides a link between the two contrasting forces of the story: the Sheridan’s world, filled with privilege and gaiety, and the Scott’s, one of hardship, death, and sorrow (Fullbrook 120). At the end of the story, Laura faces a dilemma as she has to cross the barrier between the two worlds, and face the death, mourning, and loss that her own class hides. The Garden Party represents Laura’s gradual progression in many ways: the search for her own identity, maturity, and passage into her ultimate journey down to Saunders Lane. Her advancement can be viewed in terms of her behavior before, during, and after the party. The opening paragraph of The Garden Party sets the tone for the rest of the story by "[suggesting] the unnaturalness of what is to occur in a ‘natural’ setting" (Magalaner 98). Mansfield’s imagery and diction reflect not only the Sheridan family’s wealth and elitism, but their attitude that they can "summon up beauty and elegance at will" (Hankin 240) "They could not have had a more perfect day...if they had ordered it...The gardener had been up since dawn, mowing...and sweeping" until the lawn "seemed to shine" (Mansfield 2510). Even the Sheridan’s roses are conceited "...you could not help feeling they understood that roses are the only flowers that impress people at garden-parties..." (Mansfield 2510). Mansfield’s imagery reveals the beautiful, magical quality that surrounds Laura. The sky was "blue...veiled with a haze of light gold" and the rose bushes "bowed down as though they had been visited by archangels" (Mansfield 2510). However, the underlying attempt to control nature gives the roses, and the Sheridan’s whole world, an artificial, almost unreal quality (Hankin 241).

Laura’s immaturity and naivete is revealed almost immediately, upon arrival of the workmen who are installing the marquee. Laura is selected to direct the men, a responsibility she is eager to take on because "she loved having to arrange things; she always felt she could do it so much better than anyone else" (Mansfield 2510). Despite Laura’s "ability," the workmen ignore her suggestions and choose what they think is the best place for the...

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