Offer a Marxist reading of any passage from Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party’ Essay Example
Offer a Marxist reading of any passage from Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party’ Essay Example

Offer a Marxist reading of any passage from Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party’ Essay Example

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  • Pages: 4 (1007 words)
  • Published: December 25, 2017
  • Type: Essay
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The day is ideal for a garden party, but then tragedy strikes. 'A man killed! Where? How? When? '. 1 The dead man turns out to be a poor, young carter who had lived in the decrepit neighborhood just outside the grounds of the affluent Sheridan family.

Laura, the youngest and the most sensitive of the Sheridan sisters, is distraught at the news. Surely they must call off the party now? It simply would not be decent to carry on as if nothing has happened.Jose, the elder sister, is astonished by Laura's reaction and chides her: 'Nobody expects us to. Don't be so extravagant'.

2 Jose feigns sympathy with the carter and his family but her 'hard' eyes belie her true feelings. True, the man had lived just across the road with his family, but really, they 'had no right to be in that


neighborhood at all'. 3 Why should the Sheridans have to put off their garden party on such a perfect day-especially because of a 'drunken workman'4?On the surface, class conflict and prejudice are the obvious themes of 'The Garden Party'. It is deemed perfectly natural that the haves and the have-nots coexist along side each other and lead parallel lives. Everyone knows their place in society and all interaction between the classes is governed by strict codes of behavior.

Every now and we get an inkling of underlying tension, such as when Laura's mother remarks that she's 'terrified' of the cook5. However such frictions are quickly and deftly smoothed over.On those occasions when the Sheridans seem to show an interest in the lives of the underprivileged, such as when the two sisters

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pay a visit to the poor neighborhood, this rather resembles the detached, clinical observations of an entomologist: there is no desire to empathize with the other half, nor any attempt to alleviate their wretchedness. However, there is a far more interesting underlying theme at play, here. Ironically, the one solitary voice who dares to question the prevailing bourgeois ideology also has the least to gain from its disruption.

Laura is the one who notices that the cook does not look 'at all terrifying'. 6 She becomes furious at Jose's assumption that the carter was drunk at the time of the accident. She is so sure of her own convictions about canceling the party that she is thrown into complete disarray when she finds out that her mother actually shares Jose's sentiments. Mrs. Sheridan, noticing her younger daughter's internal conflict and grasping the dangers of its consequences, attempts to bring her back into the fold by distracting her with a fancy hat.Laura puts it on, but refuses to look at herself in the mirror, at which point, the Family Ideological State Apparatus7 is invoked: her mother admonishes her against spoiling the rest of the family's enjoyment.

Yet, the 'hat trick' does eventually pay off. Later, alone in her room, Laura gazes at the mirror and becomes enchanted by her reflection. She suddenly sees herself through the eyes of her family and her social class: a charming, young upper class lady. Althusser would interpret this as an 'imaginary distortion' 8 of Laura's relationship to the real word.

For Laura, however, the distorted image supplants the tragic reality of the widow and her children and becomes the 'truth'. Her mirror

identity is further reinforced and subsumed within ideology as she is repeatedly 'interpellated' 9, or addressed in the form of compliments lavished upon her by her family and other guests: 'My word, Laura! You do look stunning' 'Darling Laura, how well you look! ', 'Laura, you look quite Spanish. '10 The garden party, which has doubled up as Laura's debutante ball, turns out to be a huge success. However, as soon as Mr.Sheridan broaches the subject of the accident after the party, Laura's uneasy thoughts resurface.

Mrs. Sheridan becomes annoyed with her husband for bringing it up and in order to allay her guilty conscience, or perhaps simply to feign magnanimity, she proposes that Laura bring the widow a basket filled with the leftover sandwiches from the party. Laura winces at the inappropriateness of this gesture and wonders why she feels so differently from her family. At this point, we hope that perhaps her ideological inculcation has not been an entire success.

Yet, once again, she succumbs to maternal authority and it is quite telling that she only becomes aware of her improper attire when she encounters a few of her 'neighbors' on her way over to the Scott's cottage. We cannot help but wonder whether a 'pre-hat' Laura might have displayed more tact and empathy on such an occasion. Once she arrives at the cottage, she is fully confronted with the incongruity of the past few hours at the garden party and the harsh, morose circumstances of the Scott family.The widow, puffy-eyed and grief-stricken, is utterly unable to communicate with Laura, and so, she is taken into another room to see the dead man.


notices how serene, content and beautiful he looks. She is deeply moved and tries to derive some consolation from this scene. There is a suggestion that death transcends the baseness of material possessions. However, this attempt at exoneration is short-lived and Laura becomes all too aware of the realities of the here and now, and her helplessness in the face of the status quo.Finally, all she can do is blurt, 'Forgive my hat',11 to the dead man, before running out of the house and into the arms of her brother. In the end, the hat and her brother's arms come to signify the shackles of the ideology, which Laura is unable to overthrow.

Overcome with emotion, 'Isn't life,' she sobs, 'isn't life - '. 12 But she is unable to finish her sentence. She doesn't need to: the brother understands what she is trying to say, as do we. This is simply the way things are, how they have always been, and how they will continue to be.

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