Short Fiction

The Garden Party

At first glance, Katherine Mansfield’s 1922 short story “The Garden Party” tells a fairly straightforward story of a young girl who gains greater understanding about life and death. Set in Mansfield’s own childhood hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, the story is not the coming-of-age narrative that one might expect. Mansfield seamlessly shifts between narrative perspectives in this modernist masterpiece to explore themes such as main-character Laura’s personal growth and her developing class consciousness. The story details the Sheridan’s planning and execution of their idyllic garden party despite the news of a neighbor’s tragic accident and subsequent death. Laura’s concern for the dead man’s family causes her to venture down the hill to the dingy, almost sinister, cottages of the working classes. While the style and narrative are compelling, the real reward of this story lies in the multiple layers of interpretation available to the careful reader. Whether one sees the tale as a simple coming of age quest, a commentary on class and society, or a reimagining of tales from Greek and Roman mythology, “The Garden Party” will never fail to reward readers with its rich symbolism and effortless complexity.

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