Katherine Mansfield’s short story “The Garden Party” employs a style that is distinctly modern in its use of impressionistic detail and stream-of-consciousness narrative method. These stylistic features also characterize the works of Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, and other innovative writers of the 1920s and 1930s.
The narrative begins in ‘ ‘the middle of things”— in media res. The narrative voice describes the scene in a casual and immediate manner which at once establishes an intimacy with the reader— “And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for the garden party if they had ordered it.” The almost confidential presentation of such objective facts establishes the narrative voice as the central consciousness of the story—one that perceives and interprets experience and that also, for most of the story, melds with the character of . . . Read More
Innocence and Experience
“The Garden Party” traces the psychological and moral growth of Laura Sheridan. The story presents her adolescent confusion regarding the social values of her family and her awakening to a more mature perception of reality after her exposure to poverty and death at the carter’s cottage.
Laura’s self-consciousness regarding her own youth and inexperience is evident whenever she encounters members of the working class. When sent to supervise the workers who have come to set up the marquee, she regards them as “impressive” because they carry their tools and work in shirt sleeves. In her initial dealings with them, she attempts to play the role of her mother—the adult— but soon loses her composure: ‘ ‘Laura wished now that she had not got her bread and butter, but there was no place to put it and she couldn’t throw it away. She blushed and tried to look . . . Read More
The Sheridan’s cook is a nurturing figure, allowing Laura and one of her sisters to indulge in eating rich cream-puffs that have been delivered for the garden party just after they finish breakfast.
Laurie is Laura’s older brother and closest family member. After viewing the body of the laborer who died before the garden party, Laura is comforted by Laurie. The conclusion is ambiguous—it is not clear if either Laurie or Laura truly understand their own feelings at that moment.
Meg Sheridan, another one of Laura’s sisters, possesses a manner and attitude similar to that of Jose and Mrs. Sheridan. The reader first encounters Meg as she comes down to breakfast with her freshly washed hair wrapped up in a green turban and a “dark wet curl stamped on each cheek.” She refuses to go and supervise the workmen . . . Read More
Katherine Mansfield’s short story “The Garden Party” opens with frantic preparations being made for an afternoon garden party. The main character, Laura, is an idealistic and sensitive young girl. She is surrounded by her more conventional family: her sister, Jose, who, as the narrator tells us, “loved giving orders to servants”; her mother, Mrs. Sheridan, a shallow old woman whose world consists of having enough canna lilies; her father, a businessman; and her brother, Laurie, to whom she feels most similar in feeling and ideals. As many critics have remarked, Mansfield’s prose depicts an almost dreamlike world.
This atmosphere is compromised for Laura when she hears of the death of one of the laborers who lives in the cottages down the hill from her house. Struck by the inappropriateness of throwing a garden party when a neighbor has been killed, Laura immediately suggests that they cancel the party. The rest of the story is . . . Read More
Laura, the troubled young protagonist of “Flowering Judas,” is disillusioned with Mexican politics, but her unhappiness goes much further than this. She walks through life feeling anxious and detached, always afraid, though she knows not of what. “She is not at home in the world,” Porter writes, summing up Laura’s state of mind. This overarching sense of ‘homelessness’ may be seen as the crux of Laura’s problem. Home refers to a physical and geographical place and it also refers to a set of feelings—security, belonging, connectedness, even love. Laura has none of these. The entire story takes place inside Laura’s house—her nominal Mexican home—where Braggioni’s overbearing presence makes Laura feel pressured and ill at ease. It is easy to see why she does not feel at home there. It is also understandable why, as a foreigner, a gringita, Laura does not feel at home in Mexico, and why, as a supporter of socialist . . . Read More
The Mexican Revolution
Porter based the story on events she experienced and observed in Mexico during 1920 and 1921, in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution. In 1910 the revolution started as a struggle against political and economic repression; in Mexico at that time, a dictator controlled the government under a one-party system and an elite class of landowners controlled the country’s resources. After the dictator was overthrown, a series of factions formed and struggled for power over the next decade. A socialist agenda of land reform (the redistribution of land to the common people), workers’ rights, and the separation of the educational system from the control of the Catholic Church were among the main objectives of the revolutionary position as laid out in the Constitution of 1917.
However, the revolutionaries who assumed political power failed to live up to these ideals. There was an ongoing struggle for . . . Read More
Symbolism is the most important stylistic feature of “Flowering Judas.” The most important thing to understand about Porter’s use of symbolism is that it is multi-faceted and ambiguous. Indeed, symbols that Porter employs often refer to one idea and also its opposite. The story’s central symbol, the flower from the Judas tree, is a example. The flower first appears when Laura tosses it out the window, which misleads her suitor. She uses the flower, an encouraging sign, in order to say “No” to her suitor—the “holy talismanic word” from which Laura draws her strength. The exotic flower is a sensuous image, and the fact that she uses it to reject the man suggests Laura’s sexual ambivalence and repression. When the flower appears later in Laura’s nightmare it is again a sensual image—she eats it greedily—but this time it doubles as a symbol of the Eucharist, wherein the body . . . Read More
Faith and Betrayal
In “Flowering Judas” there is no faith that is not betrayed. The story is structured through a series of contrasts and parallels between religious faith, faith in revolutionary ideals, and romantic-sexual fidelity, all of which are misguided or transgressed. For example, Laura is a Roman Catholic and has been raised in the Catholic tradition. Yet the revolution rejects religion, in particular the Catholic Church. Unable to divorce herself from either her religious beliefs or her political ideals, she ends up feeling as if she has violated both.
Braggioni is a hero who fought for the redistribution of wealth to the masses, only to indulge his every whim for luxury and power when he became part of the new ruling elite. He furthermore expresses his supposed love of humanity through womanizing, betraying his wife’s fanatical devotion. Even Eugenio, a martyr of the revolution whom Laura betrays by . . . Read More
Braggioni is the most powerful revolutionary leader in town, as well as Laura’s suitor. She also works for him carrying messages to members of the movement who are in prison or in hiding. He comes to her house every night to sit and talk with her and to sing songs he has composed as part of a campaign to seduce her. Braggioni is vain and self-obsessed; Laura is repulsed by him, but she accepts his attention because his is a powerful man. Fat and disgusting, he represents the corruption and cynicism of the revolutionary movement. Some critics note that he embodies all of the Seven Deadly Sins. He personifies the hypocrisy of the movement—he is a ‘ ‘good revolutionist” because “he has the malice, the cleverness, the wickedness, the sharpness of wit, the hardness of heart, stipulated for loving the world profitably.”
Braggioni’s wife is, in her . . . Read More
A young American woman, Laura has come to Mexico City in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution in order to work for the revolutionary cause, in support of a socialist regime. She is a schoolteacher and also acts as a go-between for the local revolutionary leader, Braggioni, and his adherents. Braggioni has a personal interest in the lovely but cold young woman and he pays her nightly visits, hoping to seduce her. As the story opens, Braggioni is in Laura’s room, singing to her. It is the end of the day and Laura is tired, but she receives Braggioni’s attention politely, not wishing to offend the powerful man.
There is little action in the story. The events are mostly internal, as Braggioni’s terrible singing and bantering conversation triggers Laura’s thoughts and emotions. Laura knows that Braggioni would like to seduce her and that she “must resist tenaciously without appearing to resist.” She finds him grossly sensual and . . . Read More