Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party: Illustration of Social and Economic Classes

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Social and Economic Classes in Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party”

Words like “wealthy”, “perfect”, “charming”, and “happy” accurately describe what you first see when you look at the Sheridan family in Katherine Mansfield’s story, “The Garden Party”. While words like “unsophisticated”, “grieving”, “poor”, and “wretched” portray the working-class neighbourhood living just down the street from them. “The Garden Party”, in a nutshell, focuses on the preparation and aftermath of the Sheridan family’s exquisite and expensive garden party, taken place in the early summer. The story revolves around Marxist themes such as class consciousness and marginalization of the lower-class. When looking at “The Garden Party” through a Marxist lens, readers are exposed to differences between social classes, treatment of economic status’, and class division.

Social class is first introduced at the very beginning of the story, while everyone is doing something to prepare for the garden party. In the opening scene, the upper-class is represented by the Sheridan family, while the lower-class is represented by the workmen hired by the Sheridan’s. Both are shown preparing very differently for the party, which clearly exhibits a difference in social class. The Sheridan’s are inside, preparing themselves by taking showers and eating breakfast while the workmen are outside, preparing the actual party by doing all the manual labour. As the preparation goes on, and Laura is supervising the workmen, there is a moment when one of the worker’s takes the time to smell a sprig of lavender in the garden, and Laura asks herself: “How many men that she knew would have done such a thing?” (Mansfield 2) It is now revealed to the reader that Laura has never truly associated with people like this; people that take time to appreciate non-materialistic beauty in life. This is her first real encounter with someone of the lower-class. Laura starts to think about the people in her life and thinks to herself, “She would get on much better with men like these” (Mansfield 2). This statement, in a way, foreshadows Laura’s feelings towards the lower-class later on in the story.

As the story progresses, it is clear to see how Mrs. Sheridan treats/defines someone based on their economic status. When the news gets out to the family that a man from the working-class neighbourhood living just down the street passed away, Laura seems to be the only one who feels it would be impolite to have a party while a family grieving only a few houses away. Mrs. Sheridan does not handle the situation as well as she could have and each word she says sounds more and more arrogant. When the party is over and done with, she suggests to Laura: “Let’s make up a basket. Let’s send that poor creature some of this perfectly good food” (Mansfield 10). Before the party, she would have said/did anything to keep the party running; and now that it is over, she could care less what happens next. This makes it obvious that the whole purpose of Mrs. Sheridan’s costly garden party was for her to boast about her financial status. From purchasing overly expensive flowers, to hiring people to do the dirty work for her, she made sure everyone knew, whether it was intentional or not, how much money she had. As Laura brings the left-over table scraps from the party to her neighbour’s home, she travels to a completely contrasting world. When the story began, the day was described as, “Windless, warm, the sky without a cloud. Only the blue was veiled with a haze of light gold” (Mansfield 1). Now, as she crosses over into the lower-class neighbourhood, the setting becomes, “Smoky and dark” (Mansfield 10). It is described to be beaten down and visually, a bad economy. When she arrives at the home, she is led to a room with the dead man’s lifeless body laying on a bed. Because of the family’s economic status, they could not afford a real visitation. So instead, spent no money, and paid their respects the only way they could.

Throughout the entire story, social classes are being clearly divided. The story depicts the lower-class neighbourhood being separated across a large road from the upper-class neighbourhood. It is a visual/physical division of class and can also be used as a symbol to represent status’ being divided. Classes are also being divided by an unspoken circumvention. No upper-class character has integrated with other social classes, and earlier in the story, Laura questioned that when she thought: “Why couldn’t she have workmen for her friends rather than the silly boys she danced with and who came to Sunday night supper?” (Mansfield 2) This shows the readers a progression of the growth in Laura’s character. By the end of the story, class division is being more and more illustrated. When Laura is walking through the lower-class neighbourhood, she feels like an outsider. Women are wearing shawls, men are wearing tweed caps, and she is wearing an expensive party dress and hat. All eyes seem to be on her. This goes to show how much each class stands out to one another and how unusual it is that someone from the upper-class would be walking through an area of the lower-class.

“The Garden Party” is filled with Marxist themes and makes it very clear for readers to pick out differences between social and economic status’. Laura, the central character, starts off very excited for the day and by the end, is more aware of the consequences of her social position. She begins stuck in a world of high-class housing, food, family, and garden parties and in the course of just one day, clicks back to reality. All it took was for her to encounter how the other half lives to really open her eyes. Katherine Mansfield lets readers see the world from the eyes of Laura and with that, unmasks the world of Marxism to both Laura and the readers. Laura shows her coming-of-age is more of an awakening to the deception of the upper-class society she grew up knowing. As a whole, the story is a good representation of different classes in society and accurately depicts how classes are divided.

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