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Allusion in The Garden Party

Mansfield’s “The Garden Party” includes elements from both Greek and Roman myth; respectively, the Persephone myth from Ovid’s Metamorphosis and Virgil’s The Aeneid.

The Persephone Myth: In the Persephone myth, Zeus promises to marry his daughter Persephone to Hades the king of the Underworld. Persephone’s mother Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, is distraught over the loss of her daughter and curses the world with eternal winter, demanding that Zeus return Persephone to her care. Zeus agrees, sends Apollo to retrieve her, but he includes a caveat: Persephone cannot eat anything in the underworld. Hades tricks Persephone into eating six pomegranate seeds, condemning her to live in the underworld for the rest of eternity. However, Hades allows Persephone to spend half of the year with her mother on earth. In “The Garden Party,” Laura can be interpreted as Persephone; Mrs. Sheridan, Demeter; Laurie, Apollo. Laura’s trip into the poor neighborhoods of the working class can be read as Persephone’s descent into the underworld, and the encounter she has with death as the consumption of pomegranate seeds that change her life forever.

The Aenied: Virgil’s main character, Aeneas, makes his own journey to the underworld. Many of the allusions to this story are represented by the items and talismans that the characters possess and use. For instance, in The Aenied, Aeneas must find the golden bough to access the underworld. Similarly, Mrs. Sheridan’s hat contains golden flowers and it is bestowed upon Laura before her trip to the villager’s dwellings.

Allusion Examples in The Garden Party:

The Garden Party

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"the little cottages were in deep shade...."   (The Garden Party)

The word “shade” bears two important meanings in this passage. On a literal level, “shade” refers to shadows and darkness, a visual motif for the population of the working class. On a more literary level, a “shade” is a ghost, a soul in the underworld. This is an important definition here in that Mansfield establishes a powerful allusion to Greek and Roman myths about characters who descend into Hades, or the underworld.

"At the corner of the lane she met Laurie. ..."   (The Garden Party)

Mrs. Sheridan was getting anxious about her daughter and sent Laurie to retrieve Laura. If we look to Greek and Roman myth one final time, we can view Laurie as an embodiment of Hermes, the messenger god and guide to the underworld. In the Persephone myth, Hermes is tasked with retrieving Persephone from the underworld and returning her to her worried mother, Demeter. This comparison brings both stories to a similar ending as Laura/Persephone leaves the underworld with a new relationship with, and understanding of, death.

"He was far from all those things. He was wonderful, beautiful...."   (The Garden Party)

In this moment of epiphany, many of the story’s elements come together to reveal the result of Laura’s journey: her identification with the widow, her admiration of the dead man, her mother’s garden, and her association with Greek-and-Roman myth. If we build on these moments and analyses, then it’s possible to see the scene as an allusion the Persephone myth, in which Persephone becomes Hades’s bride. Laura’s quest into the “underworld” brings her a level comfort with death: in essence, Laura becomes “wedded” to a new understanding of life and death.

"and now her voice sounded fond and sly, and fondly she drew down the sheet..."   (The Garden Party)

Here, we see that Em’s sister persuades Laura to look at the body. The adjective “sly” has connotations of ingenuity as well as deceitfulness. While on the surface we have little reason to believe that Em’s sister is trying to trick Laura, we can return to Greek and Roman mythology for a potential explanation. In the Persephone myth, she is tricked into eating pomegranate seeds and therefore bound to the underworld. Perhaps this instance parallels a similar story, in which Laura is tricked into seeing the body and forever bound to a new understanding of death.

"She had her feet on a newspaper...."   (The Garden Party)

Additionally, if we consider the “old, old woman” as Laura’s guide and recall the parallels between Aeneas (from Virgil’s Aeneid), then the woman possibly represents Aeneas’s guide, Sybil. In Sybil’s cave, oracles and prophecies are written on leaves that blow around the ground. Newspapers represent information and, in a way, prophecies. The old woman’s standing on the newspaper then could be seen as another parallel between the story of Aeneas and Laura’s own journey.

"Beside the gate an old, old woman with a crutch sat in a chair, watching...."   (The Garden Party)

This ancient woman is one of the few people who speak to Laura in this place. If we continue to read this story through the lens of the Greek-and-Roman journey to the underworld, then Laura, like other heroes before her, needs a guide. This woman provides that role by confirming Laura’s inquiry about the location of Mrs. Scott.

"And the big hat with the velvet streamer—if only it was another hat!..."   (The Garden Party)

Similar to the brightness of her frock, Laura’s big hat causes her to stand out. If we recall that the black hat is trimmed with gold daisies, then we can also look to Greek and Roman myth for another symbolic purpose of this item. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas requires the golden bough (a branch from a sacred tree) for passage into the underworld. The daisies on Laura’s hat are also gold, which further emphasizes this connection between Laura’s hat and her passage to the underworld.

"How her frock shone!..."   (The Garden Party)

While her frock is likely of high quality and cleaner than other clothes in this area, we can also read this as further evidence that Laura’s journey leads her into the land of the dead. In Greek and Roman mythology, mortals who venture to the underworld shine in comparison to the dead. Laura has brought vibrancy and life with her to this place, which causes her to stand out.

"Now the broad road was crossed...."   (The Garden Party)

This short, abrupt sentence conveys a powerful moment. Crossings represent a transition from one place to another. On one level, this short, strong statement emphasizes Laura’s leaving her own comfort zone. However, building on previous evidence we can read this on another level. If we recall the shift in tone and the presence of the large dog, then this road likely alludes to the River Styx from Greek and Roman mythology, which when crossed, represents a transition to the land of the dead.

"A big dog ran by like a shadow...."   (The Garden Party)

If we build on the idea that Laura has left the land of light and life for one of shadow and death, then the presence of a large dog immediately calls to mind a key figure from Greek and Roman mythology: Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the gates to the underworld. Further allusions to Greek and Roman mythology arise during Laura’s journey, representing strong evidence that her tale extends beyond a mere quest.

"the green bushes bowed down as though they had been visited by archangels...."   (The Garden Party)

The reference to archangels places the garden in the context of Christian theology. This passage could allude to the the Garden of Eden, where according to the Book of Genesis, humanity lived briefly in a state of innocence and grace. After learning of sexuality and mortality, the humans are expelled and forced to live in the real world. In “The Garden Party,” Laura’s journey may reflect such themes of innocence lost and the necessary departure into the darkness and ambiguity of the world. Finally, regardless of any allusion, the suggestion that the garden has been visited by archangels further adds to the supernatural beauty of the garden.

"roses..."   (The Garden Party)

In Greek mythology, the goddess Chloris created the rose when she happened upon the body of a dead nymph in the woods. Chloris turned the nymph into a rose, then asked Aphrodite to bless the flower with beauty and Bacchus to imbue it with a special nectar that would make it smell sweet. The god of the West Wind, Zephyrus, blew away the clouds and Apollo let the sun shine on the flower to make it bloom. Because of all the divine intervention this flower received, it is known as the Queen of the Flowers.

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