The Garden Party as a modernist text

Question: Discuss the modern elements in the short story “The Garden Party”. Or, Evaluate “The Garden Party” as a modernist text. Or, Katherine Mansfield as an acclaimed modernist – evaluate. Or, discuss The Garden Party as a modernist text


Katherine Mansfield (14 October 1888 – 9 January 1923) is one of the acclaimed modernists. Her writing style was starkly influenced by the father of Russian modern short story writer Anton Chekhov. To evaluate Katherine Mansfield as a modernist, we have to analyze the plot of her renowned short story “The Garden Party”.

The key concept of modernism

The modernity of literature is marked by the break of traditional forms of literature like poetry and prose. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, modernists experimented with the structure of their compositions, attempting to construct new styles of literature by rejecting conventional forms of expression. To put it differently, the term modernism is widely used to identify new and distinctive features in the subjects, forms, concepts, and styles of literature and other arts.

The analysis of human psyche

Modern English literature is characterized by the analysis of the human psyche whether it is poetry or prose. The story “The Garden Party” deals with the analysis of the human psyche. The brutal mentality and egoism of Mrs. Sheridan have been reflected in the story. Except for the main character Laura Sheridan, all the characters’ mentality is the same towards the poor. They neglect and hate the poor from the core of their heart. But Laura is a wonderful creation of Katherine Mansfield. She is the youngest daughter of the Sheridan family, a mere girl of twelve. She is young in age but mature in mentality and intellect. She has a strong sense of humanity and fellow-feeling that overcome all her attraction for pleasures and childlike fancies.

Plot structure

Modernists developed new and complex writing styles during this period. The plots were no longer linear and did not always have a beginning, middle, or end. Modernists wanted to capture the “moment” of a story and often begin from the mid-action of their descriptions without any introduction to the setting or background information about the characters. The headlines of the story reached through unresolved or hesitant endings, often with divided, fragmented storytelling. Similarly in “The Garden Party”, we notice that the story gets begun with an arrangement of a recreational familial garden party without any introduction of characters and background information of the setting though the title symbolizes something else.

Changes in the narrative style

Changes in the narrative style were also developed during this period and included the use of multiple perspectives, monologues, and the stream of consciousness. Modernists used these techniques as a reflection of a growing population that became more self-conscious due to the harsh realities of war and the advancement of psychology, emphasizing the importance of the mind and its impact on personality. All of these have contributed to the rich representation of modernist realism. From the very outset of the story, it is noticed that there is a big gap between the rich and the poor. The rich are very self-conscious. Mrs. Sheridan is the symbol of this. So, the realism that has been presented from a discriminatory point of view is nothing else but modernistic. Besides, Laura’s interior monologues by the end of the story have made the climax realizable and understandable for her maturity of humanistic mentality.

The stream of consciousness

The stream of consciousness is a narrative technique that was developed and mastered by writers such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf as new forms of storytelling. Stream of consciousness is defined as a narrative style that describes sensitive thoughts that are abstract and often go through the minds of different characters. An example of a stream of consciousness in “The Garden Party and Other Stories” is Constantia’s rambling thoughts on why she and her sister were never married in “The Daughters of the Late Colonel.” The stream of consciousness technique broke new literary ground and introduced the subconscious monologue to readers.

Multifarious themes

A short story is a piece of prose fiction that is typically based on a single setting and focuses on a single theme but in the case of Katherine Mansfield, we notice the break of this tradition since she represents multifarious themes.

  • Class consciousness: Laura feels a certain sense of kinship with the workers and again with the Scotts. An omniscient narrator also explains that, as children, Laura, Jose, Meg, and Laurie were not allowed to go near the poor neighbors’ dwellings, which spoil their vista.
  • Illusion versus reality: Laura is stuck in a world of high-class housing, food, family, and garden parties. She then discovers her neighbor from a lower class has died and she clicks back to reality upon discovering death.
  • Sensitivity and insensitivity: The Sheridans hold their garden party, as planned, complete with a band playing music. Laura questions whether this will be appropriate, discovering the death of their neighbor only a few hours earlier.
  • Death and life: The writer handles the theme of death and life in the short story. The realization of Laura that life is simply marvelous shows the death of human beings in a positive light. Death and life co-exist and death seems to Laura merely a sound sleep far away from troubles in human life.

Click here: For more notes of the short story


From the light of the above discussion, it is transparent that Katherine Mansfield has flourished her literary works completely from the modernistic point of view because there is no lack of analysis of the human psyche, the stream of consciousness individualism, experimentation, absurdity, symbolism, and formalism.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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