Laura’s Struggle for Growth in The Garden Party
Through her short story "The Garden Party," Katherine Mansfield portrays a young woman’s struggle through adolescence and her tumultuous entrance into adulthood. Mansfield paints a tale of grievance, bewilderment, enlightenment, and maturation furthered by the complications of class distinctions. Mansfield’s protagonist, Laura, encounters considerable hardship in growing up and must denounce all of the puerile convictions in her chimerical world in order to attain maturity in the real adult world.
As does any normal teenager, Laura Sheridan struggles to make sense of her adolescent life. As Don Klein remarks, "The story’s focus—and central dramatic impulse—is the young girl’s secret struggle to grow up" (124). Grappling with excessive inner turmoil, she attempts to erect a unique identity for herself, one set apart from those of her family members. In order to effect such radical transformation, she is first compelled to overcome several major impediments in her life, the most encumbering being her mother.
The overbearing presence of Laura’s mother and her mother’s ideals pose an impending hindrance in Laura’s progression to adulthood. As Laura battles with maturity, she begins shedding the skin of her childhood and hence begins transcending the mold created for her by her mother’s upbringing. Laura also begins to denounce the snug, evasive dream world that her mother has suffocated her in. Mrs. Sheridan intentionally raises her children in this dream world in order that she have complete control over their thoughts and actions without their knowledge. She furthers this dream world by letting them believe that they, and not she, are actually in control. For instance, Mrs. Sheridan leads her children to believe that they are actually in charge of the garden party, despite the fact that her disposing hand is everywhere—planning the food, ordering flowers, and telling people what to wear. Mrs. Sheridan ironically informs her daughter, "My dear child, it’s no use asking me. I’m determined to leave everything to you children this year" (Mansfield 2510). Yet, she does not hesitate to purchase flowers for the party, erect the menu, or even make arrangements for decorations: "Bank [the lilies] up, just inside the door, on both sides of the porch, please. Don’t you agree, Laura?" (Mansfield 2513). By inquiring about Laura’s opinion, Mrs. Sheridan intends to construct an illusory image of Laura’s autonomy, but Laura swiftly picks up on the deception. Laura responds with, "But I thought that you said you didn’t mean to interfere," (Mansfield 2513). Mrs. Sheridan offers no retort to Laura’s remark but does later attempt to reconstruct the illusion of her children’s control of the party and of their own lives: "But oh, these parties, these parties! Why will you children insist on giving parties!" (Mansfield 2518). Thus through banter between Mrs. Sheridan and Laura, Mrs. Sheridan’s false...