Katherine Mansfield is among the few short story writers who are regarded as masters of the modernist short story. Mansfield’s short stories do not only depict subtle changes in the behavior of human and their surrounding environment but also depict trivial events in the plots of her work. In most of her stories, she chooses domestic sphere of home as her setting, and she reveals the marital relationship between women and men. Although Mansfield has not showed elements of feminism in her contemporary works, there are vast feminist awareness flowing through her writings, in the sense that there exist a strong feeling of discontinuity and division between female and male life experiences. The many restrictions patriarchy and society places on women’s shoulder to silence them is a reoccurring topic in her writings. This paper critically analyses the extent to which Katherine Mansfield has embodied feminists in her book The Garden Party.
Mansfield’s The Garden Party narrates a story of a young lady, Laura, who when the story begins is hosting a party in her compound (Mansfield 2). However, the afternoon party does not proceed as deemed after which Laura walks away from the day’s event with a refined understanding of life. The writer awakes Laura’s social restrictions and position. This perhaps, would term Laura’s story as a coming-of-age-narrative. Literary criticism would define the objective values of feminists’ criticism, justifying its chief aims as that of to criticize and challenge patriarchal vision build both in literature and culture, rejecting and denouncing all phallocentric assumptions.
This particular approach is not only essential to Mansfield’s story because of her gender, but also because of the vast female characters in the story and their interaction with each other as well as with the male characters. The protagonist in Mansfield’s The Garden Party is a portray of a young woman, who fights to conform to her gender roles which are deemed to define the behavior for women and men and also to conform to the family expectation.
Laura, unlike other members of the family is hardworking and rises above her comfort zone to participate actively in business with men, something unheard of. Laura’s artistic qualities make her stand out and rise to the level of doing business with men (Mansfield 2). Apparently, Mansfield succeeds in bringing women to a greater level and disguise women’s inability or discomfort to speak with men.
In addition to the different levels of comforts of women, there exists variability in what being presentable entails for the two genders. For a middle class woman, the decency standard is expected to succeed that of a working class man (Mansfield 5). Meg and Jose cannot attend to the four businessmen because they are not descent enough even though the decency of the men in question is out of talk. Here again the author feels the necessity to prove women intellectually or socially to the workmen. This desire postulates that, women in the middle class are superior to the workmen and they have the potential to inferior men.
Throughout the story, the protagonist has been portrayed as being able to handle the women and is concerned with the kind of respect she has to receive from the counterpart men and how they perceive her. She seems to regard all individuals as equal (Mansfield 9). Through the perspective of the feminists, she feels she might be inferior to men when men disregards her opinion by saying “You want to put it somewhere where it will give you a bang slap in the eye, if you follow me” (Mansfield 10). This comment makes Laura think less competent of herself and the respect that men should accord her. Again Laura views the need to clarify herself in a manner that can impress, or rather satisfy the workmen. This demonstrates the power that the author has accorded her female characters in her book.
Laura struggles to fit herself in the midst of men when they meet to discuss the location for the marquee. In fact she even offers suggestion of the locations of her preference even though they are promptly discarded by men (Mansfield 2). The narrator describes how Laura views beauty as a silent splendor that is unnoticeable by men. Moreover, Laura struggles to meet her gender roles and expect s men to insensitive and rough. Her expectation of men to be insensitive and rough is deeply rooted.
In a nutshell, The Garden Party is a well figured story that revolves around a young woman struggling to define her personality in the midst of men and gender expectations. The author has excellently used the protagonist to disregard the superiority of men. She has embodied women with what she thinks is an appropriate sensitivity and knowledge through her main character Laura. Through the protagonist, Mansfield tries to equate women to men although there are still visible distinctions in the gender roles in the story. Perhaps, the liberation or freedom of seeing women as worthy and as equal as men is what she struggles to explain in her writing.