The Garden Party Symbolism

1471 Words 6 Pages
Title Here “The Garden Party” is both a coming of age tale and a look at the class disparity in New Zealand at the time. The story follows Laura on the day of her family’s big garden party as she interacts with members of both classes and prepares for the big event. It is no surprise that a short story called “The Garden Party” is full of descriptions of plants and various flowers. However, Katherine Mansfield utilizes them for more than just the setting. Each plant mentioned holds a deeper symbolic meaning and no plants are mentioned merely as set dressing of the piece. Often seen as the universal symbol of love, the rose is commonplace in literature from Romeo and Juliet to Alice and Wonderland. “The Garden Party” is not a story about …show more content…
Laura experiences an intense response when she sees the lilies her mother has so carelessly ordered. Upon spotting them she lets out a “sound [that] was like a little moan” and she “crouched down as if to warm herself at that blaze of lilies; she felt they were in her fingers, on her lips, growing in her breast”; she describes them as “wide open, radiant [and] almost frightening alive” (Mansfield 289). By choosing words such “moan”, “blaze”, and “in her breast”, Mansfield highlights the sexual nature of Laura’s reaction. Shaup argues that in this moment Laura experiences both a sexual and artistic awakening. Her feelings are so visceral that they extend past a mere “appreciation of the flower’s beauty” (Shaup 5). The wealthy, colonial society in which Laura lives is prim, proper, and almost superficial, but her response to the lilies dissents from those ideals. In response she “put[s] her arm round her mother’s neck and gently, very gently, she bit her mother’s ear” (Mansfield 290). This is an entirely inappropriate and almost perverse behavior, which supports Shaup’s argument that these lilies serve as an awakening for Laura, both sexually, and in her rebellion against the conventions of society to which she belongs. This is an interesting choice because lilies are often looked at as a symbol of …show more content…
Laura in particular has deep reactions to the flowers and they are critical to her growth throughout the story. She has a superficial appreciation for the roses and the karakas trees and it is not until after she observes the workman pause to smell the lavender that she thinks deeper. That small action is transformative for Laura and causes her to think deeper about the world around her, including both the people and flora. Following that incident she questions her interactions with and feelings for the working class. It also leads her to have a much deeper response to the lilies. The lilies represent an intersection between both the class and coming of age aspects of the story, signifying both the wealth of the Sheridan and Laura’s personal growth. While it only makes sense there would be flowers at a garden party, it is clear that Mansfield chose each one with great care as they each have a deeper

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