The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield, 1921
The magic trick:
Enacting a classic good-versus-evil battle in a surprising setting
Yesterday’s party jam – Chekhov’s “The Party” – was all about judgment. So too is today’s party in the garden. It’s all about learning to judge wisely and not harshly.
We saw Mansfield address similar themes in “The Doll’s House;” the problems of a child with a good heart being pushed toward faulty, even hateful, judgments by close-minded adult influences.
There is a feeling of generational inevitability about life, isn’t there? We are all doomed to become our parents, warts and all. Often that means taking on outmoded prejudices. Poor Laura, here, is up against that and then some.
It really is a battle between good and evil, fighting for this teenage girl’s spirit. The battlefield is a small piece of New Zealand neighborhood where the rich have garden parties and the poor fend off death everyday in a rough, blue-collar existence. It’s a classic theme displayed in a surprising setting, and the result is an excellent story. And that’s quite a trick on Mansfield’s part.
Already the men had shouldered their staves and were making for the place. Only the tall fellow was left. He bent down, pinched a sprig of lavender, put his thumb and forefinger to his nose and snuffed up the smell. When Laura saw that gesture she forgot all about the karakas in her wonder at him caring for things like that—caring for the smell of lavender. How many men that she knew would have done such a thing? Oh, how extraordinarily nice workmen were, 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? She would get on much better with men like these.
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