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Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party”: A New Critical Approach

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

"The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield

"The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield

The Garden Party

The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield is a short story that can be analyzed using new critical analysis with its formal elements, irony, and symbolism. These are just a few aspects of Mansfield’s work that can contribute to the work’s organic unity. With that, The Garden Party is an organically whole piece with all its literary devices and formal elements.

My Personal New Criticism of The Garden Party

New Criticism is one of the frameworks I can use for analysis. The use of concrete and specific examples from the text itself to further strengthen our claim is still incorporated in the readings of most literary critics today, no matter what theoretical perspective they are coming from (Tyson, 2006). New Criticism’s battle cry is the “text itself.” This movement began with Richard’s Practical Criticism, published in 1929, when he started to ask his students to study and interpret poems written by famous poets without revealing the authors (Kirszner and Mandell, 2004).

I think this work presents irony and symbolism as presented with the two families. The first family, the Sheridan family, represents the upper class, while the Scott family represents the lower class. The garden party symbolizes the former family’s rudeness and lack of sensitivity about the death of Mr. Scott. This could be related to the lack of respect and low perception of most people of those who are in poverty or the lower class.

They refused to cancel the party despite knowing that Mr. Scott had died. “They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden party if they had ordered it" (Mansfield 38). No matter the incident, the poor family would remain not considered in the story. I believe that this is prevalent in society. Mrs. Sheridan even shunned her daughter Laura about the hassle and inconvenience of canceling the party for the death of Mr. Scott. This could be seen in the following line:

“You are being absurd, Laura [. . .]. People like that don’t expect sacrifices from us. And it’s not very sympathetic to spoil everyone’s enjoyment as you’re doing now” (132-133).

It appears like they are excused from everything since they are from the upper class. Doing a favor for the Scott family could “spoil everyone’s enjoyment.” They are considering the request as too petty for everyone to stop enjoying the garden party.

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The symbolism is apparent in the two families presenting the classes of the society at the same time serves as a point of irony. I saw that these families are contradictory, which provides the tension in the story. I think that it presented the difference between the situations of both the rich and the poor. The irony of having the Sheridan family, most especially Laura wearing her best dress and going to the wake of the family is highly ironic. The basket of leftovers is also a symbol of how the rich family perceives the poor Scott family. The leftovers from the very party which was already a sign of disrespect for the dead are, for me, additional expression of disrespect despite the intention of extending the so-called “help.”

Using New Critical perspective can be useful since I am only required to focus on the text itself. This is useful since whether poetry or short story is used, there would always be formal elements. The primary point of the New Criticism is to prove how the text is organically whole. The process of analyzing the text is easy since no further research is needed. The basic need in this critical perspective would only be the text itself devoid of the information about the author and the history or context when it was written. It primarily considers the literary devices and the piece’s formal elements.

Using this critical perspective, as I was looking at the literary elements’ relationship to achieve organic unity, is highly interesting. It is like looking at the body parts of the story and trying to figure out how they work towards one meaning or theme. The irony and symbolism in the story made me think that New Criticism would work for the analysis. These were obvious points that could make the story richer when read and analyzed. I would use this theoretical lens in the future since it could serve as a good starting point. It is easy to use, and it could intervene well in the text.

Limits of ‘The New’

As for the limitations of the theoretical framework, it would be its limitation on the formal elements only. The story could have been further analyzed if the author’s background and the historical context when it was written. It could pave way for a wider and deeper understanding of the text. The text was also rich in terms of social issues that if Marxist or even Feminist perspective, the analysis would be better. This does not mean that New Criticism would totally be useless and that it should not be used anymore. This theoretical perspective also known as formalism prospered during the onset of literary criticism. It can still be regarded as useful despite its limitations by using it as the first step in the analysis. However, if I were to use New Criticism again, I would not just stop by simply using the formal elements and drawing ideas from the relationships of the elements. I would have to employ other theoretical frameworks that would help in making the analysis better.

My Verdict

With all that, Mansfield’s short story “The Garden Party” is a rich, organically unified text with symbolism and irony as primary devices that create the tension and deeper meaning of the text. New Criticism works well with the story, but the analysis could have been better if an additional lens were used.


Kirszner, Laurie and Mandell, Stephen. (2004). Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, 5th ed. United States: Thomson Heinle. Pp. 200 – 257. Print.

Tyson, Lois. (2006). Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. Pp. 130 – 146. Print.

The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield

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