Dorothy Parker Essay, Research Paper
‘Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.’
Dorothy Parker became popular shortly after the first world war with her light verse and short stories. Although her works may not seem harsh and unwomanly today, they were labeled in this manner at the height of her popularity. Her cynical verses developed into something of a national frenzy, while giving the reader the impression that she recklessly stretched a woman’s equal rights to include sexual relationships. It seemed that infidelity was included among these “rights.” Her admirers culled quotations from her poetry that, while seeming to be among the most clever, were also among the least sincere. These epitomize the apparent lack of emotional range displayed in her verse.
The techniques and topics that many of her verses tackle are as follows: “bitterness, humor, wit, and love” (Adams 519), together with an absolute foreknowledge of their futility. Love, especially, plays a major role as a theme of Parker’s verse. Many poems are relating to love and loneliness or death as results of love. Parker once said of an actress in a review of a play that she “runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.” The same could almost be applied to the author herself (Bloom 2537). Her more bitter verses become brief ballads of animosity. This aspect is quite well demonstrated by the imagined injury of others in “Frustration:”
‘If I had a shiny gun,
I could have a world of fun
Speeding bullets through the brains
Of the folks who give me pains;
Or had I some poison gas,
I could make the moments pass
Bumping off a number of
People whom I do not love.
But I have no lethal weapon-
Thus does Fate our pleasure step on!
So they still are quick and well
Who should be, by rights, in hell.’
The mental anguish of many of the female characters in her work, brought about by love or a cunning illusion thereof, is lucidly illustrated in two of her short stories, “Dusk Before Fireworks” and “A Telephone Call.” In each, the telephone is somehow used as a cruel instrument of torture against the female protagonist. The telephone is used to make Kit feel wounded and envious in “Dusk Before Fireworks:”
‘The very good-looking young man hung up the receiver, and looked at the dial of his wrist-watch He seemed to be calculating. So long for a young woman to reach her home, and throw herself upon her couch, so long for tears, so long for exhaustion, so long for remorse, so long for rising tenderness. Thoughtfully he lifted the receiver from its hook and set it on end upon the little table.’
However, “A Telephone Call” is merely an agonizing soliloquy in which a woman waits for the appeasing call from her lover. The woman’s thoughts periodically reveal her desperation and hostility toward the prospective caller, as well as the telephone itself. The monologue later includes pitiful appeals to anyone or anything that could possibly hear her pleas and share or alleviate her suffering:
‘Maybe that’s what he is doing. Maybe he is coming on here without calling me up. Maybe he’s on his way now. Something might have happened to him. No, nothing could ever happen to him. I can’t picture anything happening to him. I never see him lying still and long and dead. I wish he were dead. That’s a terrible wish. That’s a lovely wish. If he were dead, he would be mine…It would be all beautiful. I wish he were dead. I wish he were dead, dead, dead.’
The “rejected lover dominated by her own grief and sense of unworthiness” is one of two characteristic roles portrayed by the female in Parker’s short stories or verse, the other role being the sardonic wisecracker or wit comparable to Parker herself (Bloom 2538). Parker concentrates much of her creative energy on writing both poetry and prose dealing heavily with the loss and pain brought about by love, or possibly the malformed emotions and desires that may from time to time resemble love.
Parker was hopelessly romantic at heart, though much of her work puts forth the face of a cynic. Parker’s slant toward sentimentality was “always to be reckoned with” (Labrie, 340). Her poetry can change from flowing and fanciful to caustic and stinging, often within two lines of verse. This quality comes out in “Comment”:
‘Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.’
Much of Parker’s verse and prose concentrates on love. More specifically, it concentrates on disaster, anguish, or bitterness brought about by love. Parker’s own individual conflict with her runaway emotion becomes ironically apparent in her satire of the simpering, sensitive female in her work. Many of her leading characters are the self-consciously honest, rambunctious, alcohol-swilling women that the Roaring Twenties produced in that lost generation. The atmosphere was thoroughly conducive to Parker’s brief prose and poetry. The 1940s took away some of the shine of her light verse and short stories. However, her work now has the opportunity to make a comeback based upon its sharp wit and smart satire.