Marxist reading of Mansfield's The Garden Party

Authors Avatar

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

The day is ideal for a garden party, but then tragedy strikes.  ‘A man killed! Where? How? When?’. 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’.  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’. Why should the Sheridans have to put off their garden party on such a perfect day—especially because of a ‘drunken workman’?  

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

Join now!

Laura’s mother remarks that she’s ‘terrified’ of the cook. 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 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 ...

This is a preview of the whole essay