Erin Wolverton

A Whirlwind of Dualities: The Short Fiction of Dorothy Parker, 1924-1929
Historically, Dorothy Parker has been denied a place in the literary canon. Pigeonholing her as a µhumorist¶ and as a writer of µwomen¶s stories,¶ two designations that on their own may invalidate a writer¶s achievement²but, taken together, wholly negate it²critics have ignored the greater complexities of her work. Nancy Walker, a scholar of women¶s humor, observes that ³the central problem of the female humorist in America [is] the fact that humor is at odds with the conventional definition of ideal womanhood. Humor is aggressive; women are passive. The humorist occupies a position of superiority; women are inferior´ (Walker Serious 12). Complicating the issue is Parker¶s particular brand of humor. In contrast to acceptable women¶s humor at the turn of the century²gentle jokes about dieting and domestic responsibilities² Parker¶s writings were dark and ruthless, often disturbing, and branded µunfeminine.¶ Parker was marked to fail both as a humorist and as a woman, and even as a woman humorist. But with characteristic excess, Parker did not stop there. Parker first wrote in the late teens and 1920s, a period of literary overhaul²when one trend, modernism, was in the process of overtaking another, sentimentalism. Rendering herself even more unclassifiable, Parker chose to pull literary techniques from both schools of thought. Employing some of the hallmarks of sentimental literature, Parker wrote woman-centered work, and she played on the emotions of her readers. Romantic relationships and their disastrous consequences are at the heart of nearly every story Parker published; that record remains throughout her entire career, though the 1920s found plots of thwarted romance especially plentiful.1 It can also be said that much of Parker¶s work is brashly emotional²some of her women lash out, some cry, some lament, but almost all of them are sad. One of the most common contemporary criticisms of her poetry and prose was that they carried what Rhonda Pettit calls a ³sentimental infection´ (Pettit Collision). Characters such as weepy Hazel Morse were certainly out of the realm of understanding for the masculine modernists.


This may have quite a bit to do with Parker·s own experience in the dating pool; though was married to Edwin Pond Parker for the majority of the 1920s, the time they actually spent together was negligible, and she was linked with many romantic partners.

Unwilling Partners in Courtship: Men and Women The ´he said/she saidµ story ´Here We Areµ was adapted for the stage in its year of publication. These dichotomies. and being a woman. black and white. public and private life²Parker foregrounded the uncomfortable moments when two opposing forces rub together in conflict. examined in selections from Parker¶s short fiction. Critic Jessica Burstein disagrees that the styles must necessarily collide.2 Yet. characterizing Parker¶s style as more of a co-mingling of sentimentalism and modernism. Parker pulled off ³the ne plus ultra of sophistication [the avant-garde] by virtue of disdaining it´ (Burstein 235). Burstein touches upon the core of Parker¶s accomplishment²the unexpected dualities that she presented organically and seamlessly. Pettit characterizes this expansive career as a µcollision¶ of the two styles²modernism and sentimentalism. Cathy Fagan notes that Parker ³examined the moment in which her characters reveal who they are by the very language they employ to disguise themselves´ (Fagan 236). These hybrid pieces are absolutely original for their time. Dorothy Parker is the girl with the razor wit and the eggshell heart. The stories tend towards two characters²one male. most notably The Coast of Illyria (1949) and The Ladies of the Corridor (1953). By noting this. produced between 1924 and 1929. Parker also wrote or collaborated on a number of original plays. much about Parker¶s work is modernist. her ³he said/she said´ stories are quite experimental. These stories were dialogue-driven and arranged like theater set pieces. but undercut it by ³foregrounding the blasé´ (Burstein 233). How could a cynic be a sentimentalist? Parker¶s blending of the modernist and sentimentalist trends is indicative of greater dichotomies in Parker¶s work. they could almost be considered multi-genre. a setting may or may not be established at the beginning. portray the reality of living. and both elements were consistently present in every piece of work that she published. 2 Wolverton . 2 In A Gendered Collision (2000). as they might have been easily adapted to the stage as short sketches. the only developments occur in the characters¶ speech. rich and poor. in 1920s America. but once it is. 1931. one female (thus µhe said/she said¶) and generally they speak in ways which are incomprehensible to each other. Through a collection of oftvisited juxtapositions²masculine and feminine. She demonstrates how Parker unapologetically owned up to her sentimentality.

This date. the baby talk can¶t be taken out of its rightful context²spoken to a baby. her lie also helps her to protect her own ego (because who wants to admit they waited forty minutes?). quite interested in the other woman. which equates beauty with youth. She speaks to two cultures at once when she informs him that Carol is much older than she is: both 1920s social culture. which valued youth. she responds in baby talk: ³Was it feelin¶ mizzable?´ (Parker 49) She patronizes him here to hide her own insecurities about her position with him. and is. and de-genders him (with µit¶) to subtly de-power him. at the same time. By making him feel better about his transgression. devolves quickly as he reveals that he was at a party the night before with another woman. if it was in fact a date. so it may also represent the woman¶s misplaced maternal longings or a wish to appear maternal to him. and probably mostly because being a crab would violate the rules of courtship that she 3 All citations for (Parker) refer to the Collected Stories. When he professes to be ill. That¶s all´ (Parker 51). But.3 Parker¶s most popular stories²and the ones which were most commonly labeled as µhumor¶²were the ones she wrote about men and women. Immediately. Her language is also heavily coded when she tries to attract or placate him. who has been waiting forty minutes for him to show up. ³I hate to see you wasting your time with people that aren¶t nearly good enough for you. ³The Last Tea´ (1926) falls into the ³he said/she said´ category. she can make herself seem agreeable. so she has no dignified reaction to this news except an urge to compete. She dismisses the idea that the other woman²Carol²is good-looking (³I never heard of anyone that thought she was pretty´ (Parker 50)). One of her most unguarded moments occurs when he seems displeased with her testiness. She is adhering to the rules of courtship which state that women must strive to be accommodating and good-natured by lying to him. and professes to find it disgusting that Carol can ³hold her liquor´ (Parker 51) impressively. Wolverton . The idea of her as being µcrabby¶ is distasteful to her²probably partly because it doesn¶t fit in with her idea of herself. Quotations from The Portable Dorothy Parker are designated as (Parker Portable). the young woman (she) reveals her motivations by her reaction: ³I just got here myself. First published in The New Yorker. ³What¶s there to crab about?´ he asks (Parker 51) and she immediately sugarcoats. The girl is disadvantaged here by the nature of male-dominated courtship. in the hopes of attracting him. and feminine culture. stroke his ego. the story shows a young man (he) arriving at a café where he is to meet a young lady. in fact. just about a second ago´ (Parker 49)3.

though both can come away from the interview feeling that any semblance of a relationship they may have had has taken a severe hit. as the person who showed up late. for some men were unable or unprepared to adjust to the demands and attitudes of the new woman´ (Miller. which is another staple of the ³he said/she said´ story. An example of this is when she coos over him for showing up after he professed to be sick. Her tone implies that she is flattered by the sacrifice. conflicting as they did with the demands and attitudes of the prior generation¶s woman. his manner seems cool and collected throughout the entire conversation. ³Man or woman?´ he replies ³Dame. The µdemands and attitudes¶ of the New Woman. another time. and also because of the way her cultural role handicaps her. These characters experience a disconnect in their language. Perhaps this is his way of ending the relationship. Carol. In fact. She is forced to compete both with Carol and with his expectations. In fact. Even though the characters have revealed their inner antipathy for each other. so manifest through the whole story. They are handicapped in their attempt at courtship by the altered spirit of modern courtship. Nathan 270). For example. every time she begins to feel surer of her place in his affection. but he lays that idea to rest quickly with his response: ³I might as well be here as any place else´ (Parker 49). He has nothing really to do except sit and let her compete. he brings up the temptress. one can¶t help but assume that they must be unintentional. even as he baits her with his remarks.4 follows so religiously. both because he (certainly the instigator. Historian Nathan Miller confirms that. The characters part in a seemingly amicable way. they seem utterly helpless in their attempt to communicate with each other. they do not pierce the surface politeness. He consistently one-ups her with emotional punches. Meanwhile. the fight is not a fair one. downplayed why he came. that ultimately a reader must acknowledge that he is performing this subtle rejection on purpose. throwing out hurdles whenever he gets the chance. or perhaps he was never that interested in her to begin with. Regardless.´ technically a µneither¶ response. made for her a great deal of frustration. This conversational maneuver is so perfectly executed. Wolverton . when she asks who he met with the night before. because to have a man think ill of her would be unforgivable. She flatters him to the end. which is heavily genderbased. ³the changing nature of marriage turned out to be a twoedged sword. so many of his statements manage to be insulting that on first reading. and brought up Carol) knew to expect the fight.

it¶s going on all over the world. Different critics have addressed the protagonist¶s loss of power and from where it originates. the loss of purity´ (Melzer 60).´ (Melzer 54) woman is left out in the cold. Oh. travel. Parker¶s inclusion of µGod¶ as. and call him herself. physical love often implies a sense of loss. the third character in the story is not coincidental. don¶t. don¶t let me call him. because ³man has created a male God who in both daily worship and prayer is portrayed in masculine terms. God.5 ³A Telephone Call´ (1928) uses a comedic exaggeration of that frustration to underlie the seriousness of the cultural condition in which women of the 1920s found themselves. and rage at the power this man has over her. The protagonist of ³A Telephone Call´ thus cries out for mercy to one (God) as a substitute for the other (man). she has become desperate: ³I¶ll call him up. and then something happens. pleads to God to make the phone ring. don¶t´ (Parker 85). her attempt to see the bigger picture cannot hold her. The exaggeration appears in the form of a young woman who. ³Oh. The theme of power runs all through this short monologue. and he doesn¶t. ³I know you shouldn¶t keep telephoning them²I know they don¶t like that. the loss of reputation. µother¶ed by the most Supreme Being. is it? Why. Clearly. God.´ writes Melzer. Suppose a young man says he¶ll call a girl up. she has been culturally programmed to wait for someone to find her in her private sphere. Because of this. and be so easy and pleasant. basically. ³as in the loss of virginity. She finishes. The female character feels frustration. right this minute´ (Parker 82). That isn¶t so terrible. ³For a woman. By the final paragraphs of the story. and she admonishes herself frequently for her instinct to take control of the situation. because I¶ve been bad? Are You angry with me because I did that?´ (Parker 82) Wolverton . This feminine education has taken a strong hold of her. Contemporary audiences probably laughed at the protagonist¶s predicament. inconsequential as it seemed. or friends. The protagonist herself acknowledges this: ³Look. Don¶t.´ (Parker 81) she says early on. the character is wrestling with all those losses. You see if I won¶t. expecting but not having received a phone call from her boyfriend. ³Are You punishing me. Still. Absent from the public sphere. Melzer looks at the female character¶s slightly veiled admission that she has recently had sex with the man whose call she awaits. what do I care what¶s going on all over the world?´ (Parker 82) Probably this character¶s world has never been expanded by work. sadness. Notes critic Sondra Melzer.

The woman is always waiting for stimulation. Emily Toth writes that Parker ³reserved most of her criticism for people who chose to be ridiculous´ (Toth ³Feminist Humor´ 142) but doesn¶t express a particular opinion on whether we can consider ³A Telephone Call´ to be critical of the woman who waits. her superstitious belief in messages from God: ³If he doesn¶t telephone me. then I¶ll have to walk into the bedroom. he could get me. suggesting that the lockdown experienced by some of Parker¶s characters (including the heroine of ³A Telephone Call´) is entirely self-imposed: ³Such limitations come about through an inability to rise above or see beyond obsession and pettiness´ (Johnson 68). This childish response is seen especially in the speaker¶s time-passing occupation of counting to five hundred by fives. for example.6 Other critics have argued that Parker¶s characters suffer only from their own weaknesses. Yet. I¶ll know God is angry with me´ (Parker 83). and he was in a hurry. is apparent in this line: ³I must think about something else. This is what I¶ll do. She has no logical reason to equate a missed phone call with God¶s disapproval. but children often have an instinct to assume fault in an unhappy situation. If I do have to look at it. the absence of a narrative voice in the story leaves readers undirected by the author on this issue. Then I can¶t look at it. The tedium of her existence. a common exercise for a child learning their multiplication tables. He knows Wolverton . and there were people around him«´ (Parker 81)) reveals a disparity in the characters¶ social capital. in that counting. This infantilizing of the main character could be a subtle criticism. but something adults rarely find reason to do. The main character¶s vulnerability exposes her to some behavior that could be characterized as childish. and be able to choose to which occupation they give their attention. always to be found in the same place²a missed connection for her is always a direct rejection. He knows where I am. probably a major reason for her ³obsession´ with the phone call. ³If he wanted me. Ken Johnson removes the patriarchy from the equation entirely. One who is busy will be often doing something else when sought after. and that will be something to do´ (Parker 82). I¶ll put the clock in the other room. the character reveals one weakness for which the character can¶t be fully held responsible: her idleness. The comparison between this idleness and her boyfriend¶s bustling career (³he was busy. suggesting that she needs to µgrow up¶ and actively better her own situation. I can see evidence of both criticism and compassion from Parker¶s authorial choices.

For middle class and wealthy women. working still carried a social taboo. Women Invade a Male Marketplace: Economic Inequality The woman¶s idle hands versus her boyfriend¶s relative importance in the business world are a subtle comment on what Parker sees as a male-dominated economy. society still put a lot of credence into the µseparate spheres¶ concept. Despite the waves of change. ³Material Girls in the Jazz Age: Dorothy Parker¶s µBig Blonde¶ as an Answer to Anita Loos¶ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes´ from Pettit¶s editorial endeavor. with such divergent results. was expected to prioritize the former over the latter (Patterson 2). ³Parker«must have recognized«the danger of [Loos¶s] false depiction of female success within patriarchal capitalism. The 1920s were also a period of economic boom (albeit. by questioning how those two blondes could be working their way through the same world. Trailblazing women fought for better jobs and better wages. and the male. Nathan 255)²yet their positions tended towards the entry-level. both about a blonde woman attempting to find a man to support her. Pettit looks at the lurking menace of the male-dominated economy in her article. Martha Patterson shows that even the New Woman. the privileged.7 I¶m waiting here. Because he is µsure¶ of her. Rhonda S. Writes Pettit. Unfortunately. so sure´ (Parker 84). by and large. A Critical Waltz. but. It was fairly common for women to work outside the home in the 1920s²Nathan Miller suggests that 20% of American workers were women in 1927 (Miller. the American people preferred to keep women down. The preponderance of wealth was distributed mostly among the white. Pettit highlights where the similarities end. Pettit looks at Parker¶s story and Loos¶ 1925 novel. and the service industries. «¶Big Blonde¶ answers Lorelei¶s [the protagonist of Loos¶s novel] well-executed but glib success by offering a much Wolverton . He¶s so sure of me. this robbed a lot of women of the opportunity to find fulfilling activity outside the home. he easily takes her for granted. noting the basic similarity of the plots. allowed to explore both domestic arrangements and career life. the secretarial. a boom that would terminate in the stock market crash of 1929 and mire the country into a decade-long economic depression). a holdover from the 19th century which reinforced the importance of the family unit and the importance of the woman¶s role in maintaining the unit. and to experience the confidence that accompanies self-determination.

Their sexual meetings occur in the office. Durant has clearly fetishized the image of the µworking woman¶ and his ultimate rejection of Rose occurs only when she breaks that façade. wields over a woman who dares to step foot in that masculine arena. Rose is not Mr. and have her delivered as though ordered out of a catalog. Melzer goes on to examine Parker¶s descriptions of the plant as a ³solid red pile«rising impressively into the darkness´ (in Parker 23. Colleen Breese and Sondra Melzer both mark the rubber works as a reference to condoms (Breese 28. Durant and Rose¶s employment. Parker¶s masculinization of the American workplace is accomplished largely through the sexual imagery of the industrial setting of Mr. after hours. The narrator makes a point to inform us how Durant was first attracted to Rose as ³she bent over her work.¶ Parker undoubtedly meant to imbue her work with a sense of the reality of woman¶s place in a business-oriented society. labeled successful in the workplace. but also the differing intentions Parker and Loos had for their works. Loos seems to have sought to entertain and satirize the social trend of the µgold-digger. The tale of a man who ends a casual affair with a secretary when she becomes pregnant. is subordinated both by the masculine plant and by a masculine seducer. Durant¶s secretary. with the two feigning legitimate work to be done. Durant´ personifies the power a man. Though Durant is not important enough to merit his own secretary. Durant. as well as Wolverton . equating man with power. Even Rose¶s stance in the early stage of the relationship is professional: ³She never thought of stirring up any trouble between him and his wife. he is important enough to request one. her clean hair coiled smoothly on her thin neck. never besought him to leave his family and go away with her. and leaving woman in a subordinate position. The rubber works have been deliberately described to lionize the phallus. as he sweepingly put it. childish legs crossed at the knee to support her pad´ (Parker 24). her back showing white through her sleazy blouse. These two differing viewpoints are probably somewhat due to the differing ways Parker and Loos saw the world. She is borrowed from another office in the plant (her work clearly objectified) and ³that was how Rose had come to him´ (Parker 24). Mr. ³Mr. Durant¶s office and. Durant´ (1924). Rose. the secretary. ³she wept. even for a day´ (Parker 25). all over the place´ (Parker 26). Melzer 30). ³Mr. She visits Mr. Foregrounding the workplace/economy as a tool of male domination is Parker¶s early story. her straight. Her unexpected pregnancy. Melzer 30).8 harsher critique of the commoditization of women´ (Pettit ³Material´ 84).

This indicates the inevitability of Rose and Mr. White response to this phenomenon was mixed. He can¶t reconcile the lust and the misogyny that he feels in equal measure. he places an arm possessively over the shoulder of his wife and they move purposefully into the next room to consume the dinner carefully prepared by his wife (Parker 32). and you know what happens.¶ he repeated. showing that he respects the clear male-dominance of his vision of domesticity. He speaks of his relationship with Rose as ³an entanglement of the most restful. and the money eventually wound up in the hands of the NAACP. The walls of his study at home²papered red. Meanwhile. to say the least. to Martin Luther King. recognition they felt they had been historically denied. It even held a sort of homelike quality. Rose feels compelled to leave the rubber works. upon her death. A segment of the white population strategized as to how they might actively keep the minorities down. less than a year after Parker departed.9 her uncharacteristic emotion. Yet Parker¶s story ³Arrangement in Black and White´ (1927) is actually about a different. kind of racism that she must have found equally alarming: the casual racism that masquerades as tolerance. Jr. a problem Parker found very serious. minorities also sought recognition in the social world. who took possession of her ashes and buried them at their headquarters in Baltimore. He was killed. Durant¶s respective conclusions. ³¶Disgusting. the business world. for him´ (Parker 26). What¶s interesting is that Durant¶s domestic ideals are yoked to his workplace chauvinism. Maryland. and that conflict finds voice in his dismissal of the female puppy brought home by his children. creating a womb-like quality²are hung with perverse images of women and ornamental pipe racks. µYou have a female around. First thing you know. establishing the inner confusion Durant feels about women. All the males in the neighborhood will be running after her.4 4 Parker willed her entire estate. our final image of Durant is one of perfect domestic harmony: having dispatched of the troublesome puppy. Minority Culture in Parker¶s Bourgeois World In addition to the power struggles occurring between men and women during the Jazz Age. and just as insidious. A plaque on the spot commemorates Parker·s ´noble spirit which Wolverton . and the cultural world. His obvious supremacy over his wife belies the notion that he respects domesticity. has jolted them out of the comfort of the workplace dalliance and into the uncomfortable territory of domesticity. loathing the sight of a place where she has been so mistreated (Parker 28). she¶d be having puppies´ (Parker 32). comfortable nature. and racism was practiced openly among people.

She has been invited to a party in the honor of a famous African American performer.´ works at another level. The story is said to be true: witnessed by Dorothy herself. Walter Williams. who she professes is not as open-minded about blacks as she believes herself to be. as if in parlance with the deaf´ wrote Parker (79). knew better. Parker. but in many stories. as though Burton¶s racism is just a cheerful marital squabble they always have. Yet ³Arrangement in Black and White. Burton.10 ³Arrangement in Black and White´ creates an indelible character in its protagonist. She had to have wanted to expose these kinds of hypocrites for a long time via satire²and she does manage to make the story cringingly funny at its basest level. she strove to institute change. and yet her own racism is not really explored²the prejudiced female character is not commented upon by the narration except through coded indications of shallowness. The dubious heroine remarks often upon the racism of others. even though the self-consciousness she affects with him makes it clear that she¶s not as comfortable as she pretends. such as the ³assisted gold´ (Parker 77) of her hair. moving her lips meticulously. notably her husband. ³She spoke with great distinctness. She cheerfully relates to the host of the party that Burton would never share a table with an African American but finds them to be ideal as servants. with µWalter Williams¶ a stand-in for Paul Robeson. Like the characters in the ³he said/she said´ stories. No doubt Parker socialized in circles such as this one. a famous black actor of the early 20th century. remarking how ³they all have music in them´ (Parker 79) and are ³just like children²just as easy-going. She promises to tease her husband about the conversation she just had with Williams. exactly as she saw them.µ (´Dorothy Parkerµ NAACP) Wolverton . and she exults in the statement she makes by attending. Parker. The woman makes any number of gaffes in her attempts to compliment the black race. a committed activist for social equality. conversing with the man and shaking his hand. the society woman from ³Arrangement in Black and White´ again illustrates Fagan¶s notion of characters illuminating their discomfort through their attempts to pose (Fagan 236). with wealthy people who liked to claim liberality but lost it in practice. then. trusts her audience to recognize the severe hypocrisy of this woman through the celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people. An important offstage character in the story is the main character¶s husband. an unnamed society woman. Parker is well known for writing to portray life¶s imperfections. and always singing and laughing and everything´ (Parker 78).

She has wearied of being the guest who ³sits in a corner with her thoughts. In service to this theme. The boring gentleman in ³But the One on the Right´ doesn¶t talk about the war. which she wrote under the persona of a wryly dubious dilettante named µDorothy Parker¶. Parker explored this role more explicitly in a Constant Reader selection from November of 1928. Through this distancing of the narration. entitled ³Wallflower¶s Lament´.´ Dorothy says of her hosts. but the autobiographical glimpse she gives us here shows how she was so often used when she went out in public. Both stories have the same basic setting²a party²and both fall into line with Parker¶s cultivated persona. isn¶t it?¶.11 stereotypes to which our society woman adheres²basically. Parker reflects that sometimes she also gets to sit next to a gentleman who wants to bore her with war stories while she listens politely. through her status as a public intellectual (due partly to her reviews.´ which is a stream-of-consciousness narrative telling a variation on that story. These bourgeois hypocrites will trip themselves up. had much to examine in the spheres of public and private. allowing only the minorities to emerge with dignity still intact. and partly to her much-quoted quips). ³We can stick him next to Mrs. Ostensibly a review of a book called Favorite Jokes of Famous People.´ (Parker 132) Such an intelligent woman as Parker certainly would expect more stimulating conversation. that¶s four words. µIsn¶t this soup delicious?¶.´ Parker the narrator remarks. Parker allows her to dig her own grave. racism left unchecked will serve to shame the prejudiced race. And he said. an easy connection to ³But the One on the Right. smiling brightly the while in order to indicate a pathetic willingness to play´ (Parker Portable 519). ³I said. ³I have said precisely four words to the gentleman on my left. ³The Garter´ (1928) and ³But the One on the Right´ (1929). Private Needs and Public Poses: Celebrity and Social Behavior Parker. µYes. Parker²she talks enough for two´ (Parker 132). Parker spends the first half of the review talking about her retirement from parties. Parker subtly indicates that even as activism may fail minorities. that¶s three. or much of anything beyond the dinner. In ³Wallflower¶s Lament´. ³They¶ve been saving him up for me for weeks. Wolverton . Parker wrote two stories within this time period in which she made the unusual choice of casting herself as the protagonist/narrator. the outsider.

Protagonist Parker has broken a garter. bridging the gap between highbrow and middlebrow expression. ³I would that my tongue could utter the thoughts that arise in me. She comically exaggerates the severity of her situation. she employs several humor techniques to amuse the reader.12 ³The Garter´ portrays a different party. Parker the character quotes Tennyson. The image of a decaying body is alarming for a comedic piece. she imagines that. and a different dilemma. but puts her own spin on it by finishing the quotation slangily. my life¶s over. and cannot walk without revealing it to the party at large. Yet. I wonder how they¶ll be able to tell when I¶m dead. It will be a very thin line of distinction between me sitting here holding my stocking. One of the most unabashedly humorous of Parker¶s pieces. moist. Stylistically. she sits in a corner and curses her fate. ³Boy. that Parker¶s humor always contains a tinge of darkness. easy to miss. damp. and the reference is somewhat buried. she mimics the style of the quote in her answer to it: ³Boy. In ³The Garter´. A demd. welcome her into the group. So. do I would that I could!´ She makes slang of literature. with no means of moving. Parker was always purposeful in her writing. new friends. She recalls the ³Wallflower´ article more than once. she will be forced to sit at the party forever. nor glittering adventure.´ and wraps up the statement with a comic reversal of tone. however. ³Can this be me. but Dorothy uses it in the context of not being able to articulate her frustration at how unlucky she is to have broken a garter. and her readers can be sure that any word that makes it to publication Wolverton . death. ³Ah. missing her chances for love or motherhood. Later. Secondly. first when she remarks sarcastically that she ³must be cutting a wide swath through this party«making my personality felt´ (Parker 101) and again when she asks. comparing herself to Napoleon and plotting her next move (Parker 99). and just a regulation dead body. praying that nobody will come near me?´ (Parker 101) Clearly she usually prays for the opposite²for someone to join her. ³The Garter´ is quite interesting. hell´ (Parker 100). nor the sweet fruition of my gracious womanhood. anyway. she returns to her most common motif. in itself the line is about man¶s inability to be articulate about natural beauty. Another fine moment of linguistic humor occurs at the beginning of the story. It is worth noting. She swoonily goes on: ³There will be for me nor travel nor riches nor wise. unpleasant body´ (Parker 100). ³It doesn¶t matter. through the change of seasons. firstly because it¶s an ironic use of the quotation.´ she recites. do I would that I could!´ (Parker 99) This is funny.

unavoidable collection of actions that women must perform to get along in a patriarchal society. Yet to uncover the deadly serious subtext of this story. there is an element of despair in the story. a virtual outcast. joyful existence. The narration follows the story over a number of years: fading 5 See also the symbolic function of Hazel·s high-heeled shoes in ´Big Blonde. and contains a difficult and unflinching look at the effects²bodily. socially²of the alcoholism that is par for the course in a great deal of the literature of the 1920s. almost all her stories were considered to be straightforward comic sketches² potentially because of her association with The New Yorker. in an article from 1978 called ³¶I Am Outraged Womanhood¶: Dorothy Parker as Feminist and Social Critic´ tells the tale of how the critic first became aware of Parker when assigned to recite Parker¶s story. as comedic as the situation may feel. for which she won the O. Suzanne Bunkers. Henry prize for best short story of that year. ³Verbal Subversions in Dorothy Parker: µTrapped Like a Trap in a Trap. Symbolically.¶´ which first appeared in print two years later. Much longer than Parker¶s average story. She is severed from interpersonal relations²from happiness²by a garter. The story is heavily narrative and demonstrative of Parker¶s careful artistry. mentally.13 is doing a job. Parker is cut off from the crowd (³cornered.5 It serves one well to read Parker with eyes open to the potentially darker subtext. in a room full of strangers´ (Parker 99)). like a frightened rat. Not Much Fun. in the words of a recent anthology of her poetry. the story suggests that the trappings of feminine life remove a woman from a carefree. µBig Blonde¶: The Culmination of Parker¶s Literary Output of the 1920s Most critics consider Parker¶s crowning achievement to be ³Big Blonde. In her own time. one needs only to read Paula Treichler¶s article.µ Wolverton . and even floats the idea that it constitutes an out-and-out physical rape (Treichler 54). and probably having a lot to do with her celebrated wit. Treichler sees the waltz. She characterizes the dance as a locked. The category was ³humorous declamation´ (Bunkers 153).´ a story from 1929. an unabashedly feminine object. ³The Waltz´ (1933) in a high school speech contest. as a symbol of a greater male trespass upon the female body. the death imagery serves the remind us that. its scope also covers much more territory than she tended to in her other work. Here. performed against the female character¶s will.

Nettie bonds Hazel to her unhappiness. Like the ³he said/she said´ stories. ³[The presence of] Africanist figures«problematizes the text beyond its interrogation of the cultural construction of the µbig blonde¶ as an ideal of femininity´ (Simpson 188). Hazel. then pulling back and moving forward again. Even race issues are addressed through the marginal presence of African Americans in the story. body. It looks at the gendered nature of conspicuous consumption and concealed privation. Ed. upsets the traditional hierarchy of race by interrupting Hazel¶s suicide attempt. touching lightly upon an illustrative moment in Hazel¶s life.´ from finding happiness. Her presence underlines the prostitution that Hazel has perpetrated on her self. the titular ³Big Blonde. and soul²as a commodity in the social marketplace.´ Parker is able to feature every variety of reversal that I have explored up to this point. But her µproduct¶ becomes harder and harder to supply.14 in. Simpson also examines how Nettie. ³Parker makes the black figure the embodiment of the bonds of slavery´ (Simpson 193). and an uncomplicated reprieve from their daily lives of business and conventional marriage. When she can no longer trade on her looks as a dress model. By yanking Hazel unwillingly back into the life that she was eager to leave. as she does just about everything. who in her own married life discovered how ³tired´ (Parker Stories 106) she had become of this aspect of courtship (³being a good sport´ (Parker 106)). it looks at the male-female question. These men require Hazel to dutifully provide them with the companionship they expect²compliments. in the comparatively epic context of ³Big Blonde. and her husband has left her. The doctor who visits Hazel at her suicide attempt is pulled away from a young black woman Simpson identifies as a prostitute. Wolverton . In terms of other juxtapositions. In fact. This paradox is Simpson¶s observation that the black characters in the story reinforce the societal problems that have kept Hazel Morse. Ironically. joviality. Without thinking. Critic Amelia Simpson has identified the way black characters are used in ³Big Blonde´ to complicate the accepted message of the story. Parker¶s story is chiefly known as an indictment of standards of femininity²white femininity. offers her ³a regular allowance´ and she dutifully saves what she has earned (Parker 113). her first boyfriend after Herbie¶s departure. she begins to support herself by allowing men to bestow gifts and money upon her. Hazel¶s problems with men and with money are one and the same. Hazel¶s maid. Hazel has categorized herself²mind. is forced to take it up again indefinitely. and examines disconnect between public behavior and private needs.

then. Wyatt Cooper. and she did earn it. emphasis mine). either. not just piecemeal. While other Parker characters (women in particular) find themselves bested in one area of their lives. was constantly at war with her incredible mind. historian Harvey Green hits upon (we will assume coincidentally) the same phrase used by Parker in his book of cultural history. Mostly. ³¶Companionate marriage was the fashionable term for the ideal marriage relationship in the 1920s. from the alcoholism to the forced jocularity. straight down to the thwarted attempt at suicide. charitable. brilliant. and certainly Parker experienced hardships similar to those of Hazel. and thus she comes to illustrate the responsibility of maintaining a public image contradictory to one¶s private life. Writing of changes appearing in married life. µcompanionate marriage¶ has increased her responsibilities in her romantic relationships by forcing her to be an equal player in the proceedings when her unimaginative personality and her economic circumstances both undermine that equality. gracious. a critical mind. Her desire to be a lady (and she was a lady and a great one). she saw it whole. Denying Dorothy Parker a place in serious literature robs her of the esteem she rightfully earned. delicate. all at one time. and to the point. entire. We can see here. The Uncertainty of Everyday Life: 19151945 (1992).15 Endeavoring to fulfill her monetary needs. one would look at people and see them with her X-ray vision (an experience not recommended for casual social intercourse) and would find oneself as dismayed by the phenomena as she must have been´ (Cooper 61). Hazel barters away her own emotional needs. A µgood sport¶ and shared interests. Green says. an acquaintance of Parker¶s in her later years. on the contrary. rather than the nineteenth-century concept of µseparate spheres¶ were the keys to happiness´ (Green 134. ³Big Blonde´ looks at the many ways the world has found to beat Hazel Morse down. It was her misfortune (and her fortune) that she saw the absurdity of everybody. precise. and sometimes. Hazel denies her private longings to uphold the bravado these men have purchased. Many critics look at this story as heavily autobiographical. soft-spoken. Interestingly. by taking the conflicting tornado of her personality and harnessing it Wolverton . including herself. how the changing face of womanhood has not aided Hazel in finding a niche where she may succeed and be happy. best expresses the torment that inspired Parker¶s greatest work: ³The inside of her head must have been a battleground. when one was with her. Hazel is bested by everything 1920s society can throw at her. and wellmannered (and may I be struck dead if she wasn¶t those things).

dazzlingly well-crafted. Wolverton . outrageously funny and dishearteningly sad. all at once. bitter. culturally significant.16 into work that is at every turn charming.

111-134. Not Much Fun²the Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker. 2006. Visual Complete Stories. 1998. New York: Scriber. Lanham. Burstein. and Popular Feminism in the Twenties. Ed. Secondary Resources (Literature & Interpretation) Breese. Revised. Flora. Lisa Botshon & Meredith Goldsmith. Eds.´ Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Women Writers of the 1920s. 1995. ³A Few Words about Dubuque: Modernism. Boston: Northeastern University Press. Secondary Resources (Biography) Cooper. Arthur. ³Excuse My Dust: The Art of Dorothy Parker¶s Serious Fiction. 1973. 2005. ³¶I Am Outraged Womanhood¶: Dorothy Parker as Feminist and Social Critic. ³Dorothy Parker´. Dorothy. Jessica.´ American Literary History 14. Cathy E. Day. Susan Rollins. Dana.´ Pettit Critical Waltz 152-165. By Dorothy Parker. Suzanne L. 2004. The Portable Dorothy Parker. Introduction. Joseph M.´ Gender in Popular Culture: Images of Men and Women in Literature. <http://www. 1999. ³Progressive Middlebrow: Dorothy Canfield. Maureen Woodard. Colleen.2 (July 2002): 227-254. ³Working Women in Depression-Era Short Fiction: The Short Stories of Tess Slesinger. OK: Ridgemont Press. Silverstein. -----------------. 61. Wolverton . University of Toledo. Sentimentalism. Dorothy Parker. Harker. Dorothy Parker: In Her Own Words. 2003. 110-114. Ed. 1996.´ Diss. She Wasn¶t. Barry. ³Whatever You Think Dorothy Parker Was Like.´ Esquire July 1968: 53. Jaime.naacp. NAACP Homepage. and the Blasé. New York: Penguin. Claremont Graduate University. Cleveland. 22 April 2008.17 Works Consulted Primary Resources Parker.´ Diss. Bunkers. and Material Culture. Women¶s Magazines. Stuart Y. Wyatt. Colleen Breese. 227-245. New York: Twayne Publishers. New York: Penguin. 1992. Fagan. Ed. ³The Price of Power in Women¶s Literature: Edith Wharton and Dorothy Parker. Dorothy Parker and Marita Bonner.htm> Kinney. MD: Taylor Trade Publishing.

Wolverton . Kathleen M. Ken. Honey. ³On the Wire with Death and Desire: The Telephone and Lovers¶ Discourse in the Short Stories of Dorothy Parker. A Gendered Collision. NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.´ Pettit Critical Waltz 230-245. ³Dorothy Parker¶s Perpetual Motion.4 (Dec 1992): 763-784.K. Slip. Mihic. 1984. 2003. Femininity. ed. CA: American Studies Publishing Company. Parker and the History of Political Thought. ³Celebrity. Huntington Beach. and Alcoholism. Hall & Co.´ Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Women Writers of the 1920s. Toth.´ Language and Style ± An International Journal 8.´ Arizona Quarterly 62. 2005. Nancy. Lisa Botshon & Meredith Goldsmith.2 (1998): 212-230. -----------------. Johnson.´ Women¶s Studies 33. -----------------. A Very Serious Thing: Women¶s Humor and American Culture. Simpson. Lingerie: Dorothy Parker¶s Autobiographical Monologues. Sophia. Boston: G. Minneapolis. and a Twenty-Yard Dash¶: Dorothy Parker and the Waltz of Literary Criticism. Miller. ³Material Girls in the Jazz Age: Dorothy Parker¶s µBig Blonde¶ as an Answer to Anita Loos¶s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.´ Pettit Critical Waltz 296-307. Madison.. Maureen. Ivanov-Craig. ³Making Love Modern: Dorothy Parker and her Public. 1988. Madison. Eds. ³Feminist New Woman Fiction in Periodicals of the 1920s. and New Feminist Humor.´ American Literature 64. -----------------. ³A Laughter of Their Own: Women¶s Humor in the United States. Emily. Amelia. ³Dorothy Parker. ³Mrs.´ Critical Essays on American Humor. Boston: Northeastern University Press. The Tradition of Women¶s Humor in America.´ Pettit Critical Waltz 75-85. ³¶Two Stumbles.´ Pettit Critical Waltz 137-151. 2000.´ Pettit Critical Waltz 62-74.´ Pettit Critical Waltz 187-199. eds William Bedford Clark & W.´ Literature and Medicine 17. NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. Craig Turner. 87-109. Andrea.´ Pettit Critical Waltz 17-36. Erica Jong. Lansky. Treichler. Rhonda S. -----------------.1 (January 2004): 77-102. ³Black on Blonde: The Africanist Presence in Dorothy Parker¶s µBig Blonde¶. Katherine Anne Porter. -----------------. Paula A. Nina. Ellen. Pettit. April. ³Being and Dying as a Woman in the Short Fiction of Dorothy Parker. Middeljans.18 Helal. ³Female Trouble: Dorothy Parker.4 (Winter 2006): 47-70. 1984. Walker. ³Verbal Subversions in Dorothy Parker: µTrapped Like a Trap in a Trap¶. MN: University of Minnesota Press.4 (1980): 46-61. The Critical Waltz: Essays on the Work of Dorothy Parker.

1927: High Tide of the Twenties. ³The New Generation of Women. Edinburgh. Leinwand. Niall. Stephen H. Green. Eds. New York: Scribner. Scotland: Edinburgh University Press. Miller. Urbana. Culture and Comfort: Parlor Making and Middle-Class Identity. Paschen and Leonard Schlup. 78-88. Harvey. 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Lewiston. IL: University of Illinois Press. Wolverton . New York: Four Walls Eight Windows. Martha H. DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. Dee. Palmer. 2004. The Uncertainty of Everyday Life: 1915-1945. New World Coming: The 1920s and the Making of Modern America. 2005. 1895-1915. 1988. 2006. Katherine. Grier. 2007. Nathan. The Twenties in America: Politics and History. 2003. 1850-1930.19 Secondary Resources (Historical & Sociological Context) Gilman. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. Patterson. Washington. Chicago: Ivan R. Charlotte Perkins. Beyond the Gibson Girl: Reimagining the American New Woman. Daily Life in the United States.´ The United States in the 1920s as Observed in Contemporary Documents: The Ballyhoo Years. Kyvig. 1992. 2001. NY: Edwin Mellen Press. Gerald. David.