Friday, January 9, 2009

Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant

"The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield

Rabbits may be cute, but they don't give a damn about poor people.

A rich British family plans, delivers and cleans up a fancy, mid-summer garden party. Isn't it grand? However, the fun is spoiled for daughter Laura when a poor neighbor accidentally dies prior to the party. She actually has the audacity to suggest that her family postpone the occasion in honor of the dead peasant.

Mansfield's 1922 short story contrasts the rich and poor with the ever-popular light and darkness imagery. Laura's family, garden, house etc. are bathed in all the sun's riches; the poor dead dude is submerged in shadow. The story does well in sketching the upper classes attitude towards the unfortunate. Good phrases used to describe the poor include: “Their houses were the greatest possible eye soar;” “It was disgusting and sordid;” “People like that don’t expect sacrifice from us;” and “I can’t understand how they keep alive in those poky little holes.”

It is a shocking realization for Laura that people can suffer in misery unbeknownst to her in such a close proximity. The trifles of the garden party are insignificant compared to the sustained torment endured by the poor. Her family’s cold reaction to the poor doesn’t make them bad people. Instead, Mansfield was simply illustrating the general feeling of the establishment towards the lower class in this era.


Up next: "The Three-Day Blow" by Ernest Hemmingway

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