The Garden Party is a thought-provoking short story that has become an excellent example of modernist literature. The author of the narrative Katherine Mansfield portrays the Sheridan family, which is preparing for the annual garden party. The Sheridans are typical representatives of the upper-middle class who live in the nice big house and enjoy comforts of their life. The story mainly focuses on a young woman Laura who counters the historical views of the women of that time. In the narrative, this girl is the only character from the privileged social class who challenges the portrayal of the Victorian women as ignorant and indifferent to the life realities. While the character is unprepared to face poverty and death, experienced by people outside her social status, she suddenly considers absurd nature of class distinctions. In addition, the feminist elements of the short story such as domestic role of a wife and Laura’s education relate to contemporary society showing that class differences to some extent remain topical. Therefore, The Garden Party is a controversial short story, which through the depiction of the young girl stands against the historical views of Victorian women.
In the narrative, Mansfield attempts to disprove the Victorian socio-moral values, which have been highly appreciated by the British at the beginning of the 20th century. To succeed in countering the historical views of women of that time, the author portrays an upper-class girl who goes beyond her comfort zone, thus witnessing the tragedy of people who do not belong to the privileged class. Living out of touch with reality, Laura knows neither poverty nor miseries people face every day in their life. The young woman is deprived of such knowledge because the Victorian women of the upper-middle class were engaged only in social events such as dinners and garden parties. In this respect, they could hardly know about the challenges of ordinary people who were less educated and wealthy. Nevertheless, when Laura witnesses death for the first time in her life, she feels estrangement from her own social circle. However, girl cannot integrate with the individuals outside the upper class because the harsh facts of their life frighten her. Therefore, Mansfield makes her character lose the sense of security and doubt the firmness of the known to her socio-moral system and her place within it.
At the same time, the specific feminist elements, applied in the short story, show how vulnerable and dependent position of women has been. Thus, the example of Mrs. Sheridan as an obedient housewife demonstrates that Victorian women have been expected to take care of children and house. Although the woman gives orders to youngsters, the father still has final say. Moreover, the mother teaches her daughters how to run the party because this knowledge will be very beneficial when they become wives and mothers themselves. What is more, Mrs. Sheridan threatens to turn to the father if the children will be disobedient, “Do you hear me, children, or shall I have to tell your father when he comes home tonight?” (Mansfield 61). While Mr. Sheridan and his son go to work in the office, his wife and daughters stay home ordering flowers and taking care of all the organizational moments. In this respect, feminism, applied in the story, shows that women of the upper class took their life for granted. They spent money of their husbands for the organization of parties and dinners instead of earning them. Enjoying comforts of their life, women did not pay an appropriate attention to the tragic death of their neighbor.
Furthermore, Laura’s education is one more feminist element in the short story that shows privileged class indifference to the life realities of people, living near them. Obtaining theoretical education from the elders, the girl practices how to give orders to servants. Moreover, the only information she learns is how to be excellent at nurturing children, giving parties, and choosing proper hats and flowers. To be precise, Victorian women were required to go through a little education, namely arts and languages to conduct the conversation. In Mansfield’s literary work, Mrs. Sheridan and her daughters are perfect examples of such women. Indeed, Laura is trained to transform into an ideal wife, mother, and housekeeper to meet the expectations of her circle. However, the sudden news about the death of a working-class man evokes the girl’s sympathy for this person and his family. Laura even asks her mother to cancel the garden party, but the woman does not listen to her child (Mansfield). While the girl is in the process of forming herself, she differs from her mother who had been nurtured according to the patriarchal ideological system. Thus, depicting Laura as an individual, having personal life views, Mansfield struggles against the male-dominated society.
In conclusion, The Garden Party is a prominent literary work of that time which raises the question of women and their role in society. Through the portrayal of the upper-middle class family, specifically mother and her daughters, the author challenges the historical views of Victorian women. While Mrs. Sheridan is a classic woman of that time who obeys her husband and takes care of household and children, Laura is only at the beginning of formation of her beliefs and attitudes. Although the girl has been nurtured and educated similarly to her mother, the tragic event makes her look at class division from a different perspective. At the same time, The Garden Party does not lose its topicality because the feminist elements of the story relate to the contemporary society. Namely, women like Mrs. Sheridan have few concerns in their life mostly enjoying its comforts. Thus, the writer criticizes women who hope to outlive their husbands and children and want to be accepted by the others.