The Garden Party

The Garden Party Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why do many of Mansfield’s stories end on an ambiguous note?

    As a modernist Mansfield often experimented with form. Her ambiguous endings are very stylistic and a mark of her mastery of the genre. An admirer of the French Impressionists, Mansfield’s work often details a very specific moment in time such the “Bank Holiday” or “The Lady’s Maid.” Her work often contains impressions or moments of self awareness like Laura’s epiphany in “The Garden Party.” Character information is presented in reverse, slowing revealing the character’s past and guiding the reader toward a better understand of the character’s present. The author purposely leaves room for the possibility of many different endings for stylistic purposes and perhaps in imitation of the unpredictability of life.

  2. 2

    Class relations are strained in several stories within the text, especially in "The Garden Party," which takes the perspective of the upper class. Provide an example from the text from the perspective of the lower class, and discuss how they are treated by the upper class.

    In “Life of Ma Parker,” the title character works as a maid for an unnamed gentleman of leisure. Upon hearing the news of her grandson’s death and burial the gentleman expresses his condolences but does little to comfort Ma Parker. She becomes lost in her memories of the past while she works until she is interrupted by the literary gentleman. He shows little compassion for her circumstances when he reprimands her for discarding the last of his cocoa without his permission, a veiled attempt to remind her of who has the authority in their relationship. The triviality of their interaction reveals his lack of respect and disconnect toward Ma Parker and her unfortunate circumstances.

  3. 3

    Why is Mansfield’s narrative style unique for her time period?

    Mansfield’s narrative style was unique because she told stories from a female perspective, an uncommon practice in the early twentieth century even for modernists. She wrote from both the male and female point of view, sometimes interchanging them within the same story as in “At the Bay.” This provided for a more in-depth analysis of daily life through the eyes of both sexes while drawing attention to changing societal assumptions concerning gender roles.

  4. 4

    The sea is used as setting in several stories within the text and establishes mood in others. Provide an example in which the sea accomplishes both.

    In “At the Bay’ the sea is not only a backdrop in the daily life of Crescent Bay, it plays an integral part in establishing the story’s fluctuating mood and provides a common meeting place for the characters to interact. The sea is central in the lives of the characters of Crescent Bay who incorporate it into their daily lives through various social activities Mansfield also uses the sea to emphasize the changing moods of the characters as the day progresses. For example, the calm morning sea helps usher in a new day for Stanley Burnell as he bathes. The low tide of afternoon welcomes the socialization of the women and children. Later a temperamental sea reflects the unease of Beryl Fairchild during her night time exchange with Mr. Harry Kember.

  5. 5

    Of the female characters in Mansfield’s stories, who is most like the author?

    The Garden Party is loosely based on the author’s own adolescence as a young socialite in Wellington, New Zealand with her family. Like the Sheridans, Mansfield’s family lived in a large house and were lavish in their lifestyle. Of the Sheridan children, Laura is most like Mansfield in personality and perspective as she too found her family’s apathy toward the poor unsatisfactory.

  6. 6

    Why are there no main characters in "Bank Holiday," and how is this significant in relation to the other stories in the text?

    The characters of the "Bank Holiday" are mostly faceless with generic characteristics and commonplace descriptions. They are soldiers, girls, musicians, families, the elderly etc. They are distinctive only in what they are doing, who they are with and what they have bought. Social classes mix and mingle as a community comes together to celebrate their national holiday. As one entity the crowd moves forward up a hill and in doing so becomes the one character of significance in the story. The lack of main characters is distinctive in relation to Mansfield’s other work in the text because all of the other stories have at least one main character.

  7. 7

    Some of Mansfield’s male characters find themselves either battling against their sense of duty toward family, or becoming overly attached to their work. Provide an example juxtaposing male characters within the same story who meet this description.

    In “At the Bay” Stanley Burnell and Jonathan Trout are foils of one another. Stanley prides himself on a solid worth ethic while Jonathan wishes to escape his duties and live his life as he pleases. Both are settled with families to provide for and they each express their hurt feelings toward having to work for a living. Yet Stanley dutifully goes to the office each workday and although he does not always feel appreciated at home for his hard effort he does not shirk his responsibilities unlike Jonathan who reluctantly goes to the office but finds it difficult to carry on and indulges in fantasies of a better life away from the tediousness of the work and in doing so he falls short of his and everyone else’s expectations.

  8. 8

    Music is often used in Mansfield’s work to expression emotion. In which story does the main character use music to express first her overwhelming sadness and then her joy?

    In “The Singing Lesson” the main character, Miss Meadows, is devastated that her fiancé has called off their wedding. She is unable to control her emotions during her singing lesson with her students and asks them to sing a lament. Miss Meadow’s rude behavior influences their performance and she instructs them to “feel” the music and the students soon grow angry and depressed as a reflection of Miss Meadow’s own mood. Later Miss Meadow’s elation at the news that her wedding is still on is reflected in her second music choice and she leads her class in a jaunty tune.