On Parker And Humor Essay, Research Paper
Suzanne L. Bunkers
Dorothy Parker was not only a wit also a chronicler and a harsh critic of 1920s-1930s
social roles. Her poems and short stories are not simply "cute" or
"funny"; they also function as a vehicle for social criticism. Of particular
importance is Parker’s use of stereotypical female characters to satirize, more bitterly
than playfully, the limited roles available to American women during the Twenties and
Thirties, decades when the predominant image of the American woman was that of the
sexually free, even promiscuous, flapper.
In keeping with her purpose as a satirist, Parker’s poems and short stories criticize
the status quo rather than define new, three-dimensional female roles. As a result, her
women characters generally evoke mixed reactions from the reader: they seem pitiable, yet
they grate on the reader’s nerves. They appear to be victimized not only by an oppressive
society but also be their inability to fight back against that society. It would be easy
to conclude that Dorothy Parker is hostile toward the "simpering spinsters" or
"rich bitches" she portrays in her poems and stories, but to do so would fail to
take into account her satiric purpose and technique. Dorothy Parker is not satirizing
women per se; rather, she uses her pitiable, ridiculous women character to criticize the
society which ahs created one-dimensional female roles and forced women to fit into them.
From Suzanne L. Bunkers, "’I Am Outraged Womanhood’: Dorothy Parker as
Feminist and Social Critic." Regionalism and the Female Imagination 4
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was, officially, the wittiest woman of the 1920s, and the
best example of what I would call the more traditional female humor. Her wit was a weapon
. . . . [a]nd she specialized in truths close to home . . . . Some of her witticisms came
from her sympathies — especially with underdogs, human or canine. . . . She was
especially expert at the game of embrace-and-denounce. . . . And her barbs were frequently
directed at women, and women who lived the kind of independent, emancipated life she did.
I call Dorothy Parker’s humor traditional primarily because of its targets. As all
satirists do, she attached affectation and hypocrisy, but like such traditional satirists
as Juvenal and Swift she often attacked women — for such stereotyped traits as cattiness,
backbiting, and competition. While her short stories do tend to be more sympathetic, her
verbal barbs and her poems — most of them from the 1920s — were composed for a mostly
male audience, the other members of the Algonquin Round Table.
From Emily Toth, "Dorothy Parker, Erica Jong, and New Feminist Humor."
Regionalism and the Female Imagination 2, no. 2 (1977): 70-85.
Nancy A. Walker and Zita Dresner
Dorothy Parker is one of the few female humorists who are frequently included in
anthologies and critical studies of American humor, a fact that may have more to do with
her participation in the famous Algonquin Round Table during the 1920s than with an actual
critical appreciation of her work. In fact, in the foreword to his collection The Best
of Modern Humor (1983), Mordecai Richler explains that he has not included Parker’s
work because he finds it "brittle, short on substance, and . . . no longer very
funny." Yet it is precisely the substance of Parker’s work — its bittersweet,
serio-comic depiction of the sexual double standard and uneasy relations between men and
women — that has made it relevant to women’s experience for the past sixty years. The
story of "Mrs. Parker," as she was known to her friends, has particular appeal
to Americans: the outwardly witty, self-confident person who is actually despairing enough
to attempt suicide more than once. And if it is her legend that has kept her work in
print, readers should be grateful for it.
From Nancy A. Walker and Zita Dresner, eds. Redressing the Balance: American
Women’s Literary Humor from Colonial Times to the 1980s. Jackson and London:
University Press of Mississippi, 1988. 257.
See also Nancy A. Walker. A Very Serious Thing: Women’s
Humor and American Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.