Identity Formation in Mansfield’s The Garden Party
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"The budding rose above the rose full blown," writes William Henry Wordsworth, elevating the process of emerging, changing and evolving over those already developed, established and matured. While Wordsworth’s remark regards a rose, the statement also accurately describes Katherine Mansfield’s protagonist in The Garden Party. The narrative focuses on a wealthy family from New Zealand, jaded by elite lifestyle and prominent social standing. The youngest daughter, Laura, "the budding rose" of the story, seeks to break the constraints of upper class society, causing her to be both more mature and compassionate than other members of her well to do family.
Laura’s internal struggle, the main conflict of Mansfield’s story, is one of identity, and she oscillates between imitating environmental influences and reacting to them in a manner that is unique to her individual personality. Throughout the course of the story, the pendulum of her conscience swings to converse sides, causing her actions to be inconsistent and without allegiance to either her family’s upperclass exclusive ways or to her inherent qualities of equality and empathy. This varying behavior causes critics to dispute over Laura’s "true" personality, motives and objectives. While some critics believe that her sympathetic efforts are an attempt at rebelling from the expectations of her class, others believe that she is an empathetic individual without a supportive family. Another group of critics believe that the story presents only the initiation of Laura’s kindness, suggesting that she will continue to flourish into a compassionate person on the outskirts of upper class society; others refute this view, stating that The Garden Party portrays the extent of Laura’s d...
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