The Garden Party


Katherine Mansfield

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Themes and Colors
Work and Leisure Theme Icon
Empathy, Understanding, and Class Consciousness Theme Icon
Beauty, Refinement and Detachment Theme Icon
Childhood, Family and Independence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Garden Party, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Work and Leisure

“The Garden Party” emphasizes the stark division between working-class people and economic elites in a deeply unequal society—in this case, early 20th century New Zealand. As she follows the wealthy Sheridan family on the day of their extravagant party, Mansfield critiques this society's division between elites who get the privilege of leisure time and the disposable laborers whose work makes leisure possible.

All the characters in the story belong unambiguously to one or the other…

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Empathy, Understanding, and Class Consciousness

Mansfield’s story is as much about class division as it is about characters’ awareness of that division. While “The Garden Party” demonstrates how elite prejudice against working-class people helps sustain an unequal society, it also shows how encounters across class lines can change (at least some) people’s social understanding. In other words, meeting people from other classes can help people develop a consciousness of class difference and, therefore, empathy for those of different classes. However…

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Beauty, Refinement and Detachment

“The Garden Party” suggests that beauty is a double-edged sword: it is as much a worthwhile source of pleasure as a way for the privileged Sheridans and their associates to detach themselves from the suffering that surrounds them. In this story, social elites become so focused on the surface appearance of things that they seem to lose a normal range of human emotion; they position themselves as viewers of, rather than participants in, the world.

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Childhood, Family and Independence

“The Garden Party” is also a coming of age story: Mansfield depicts Laura’s struggle between, on the one hand, her sense of duty to her family and her instinct to follow her mother and, on the other, her growing dissatisfaction with her sheltered upbringing and desire to explore a broader world. Mansfield treats adolescence as a half-step to independence: Laura begins to question the circumstances and expectations into which she is born, even as she…

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