The story opens with Mrs. Sheridan sending her daughter Laura to go supervise four workmen as they set up the marquee (a large outdoor tent) in the family garden. The marquee represents Laura and her siblings’ sheltered upbringing, and Laura’s forays out of the marquee mark the beginning of her broadening horizons. Laura’s mother asks her to decide where to put the marquee and to instruct the workmen of her decision, which gives Laura a false sense that she has meaningful decision-making power. Her ideas, of course, are not taken seriously, as the workmen decide on their own where to put the marquee while Laura imagines herself as a “work-girl.” This shows how sheltered Laura is: she simultaneously believes that she has power in this situation, and also fancies herself of a different class now that she has brushed shoulders with working people. Laura’s role in setting up the marquee echoes her later advocacy for the Sheridans to help out the Scotts. While Laura earnestly instructs her family to postpone the party, they ignore her pleas. After the party, however, they finally agree to help in a condescending and limited way by sending Laura with a basket of leftovers. Notably, Mrs. Sheridan makes this decision in the marquee, to which her family has returned for shelter after the party’s end. Mrs. Sheridan wants to remain in her sheltered, upper-class life, while Laura walks out of the marquee and towards the Scott household, giving her an experience of poverty to which she had not previously had access. Laura’s illusion of control over the marquee’s setup represents her illusion of control over her own sheltered childhood, but her trip out of the marquee represents her gradual but incomplete voyage beyond that upbringing.
Marquee Quotes in The Garden Party
“My dear child, it's no use asking me. I'm determined to leave everything to you children this year. Forget I am your mother. Treat me as an honoured guest.”