Dorothy Parker’s writings are connected to her life in many ways. She grew up in a time where women’s roles where changing in society. She spent most of her life in New York City and most of her stories setting are of that city. She was married young and divorced in a short time, just as the Hazel in The Big Blonde. She was outgoing, sarcastic, and witty in a time when women were supposed to be docile. This style is shown throughout her work but particularly in The Waltz, where the status quo is displayed through the character’s conversation and Parker’s ideals are made known through the woman’s inter monologue. She combats a typical stereotype through mocking, in The Standard of Living. In this story the average woman is shown, as silly and almost material person. This work breaks the normalcy of the day by having them dress a little more risqu? and being more independent. Dorothy Parker lets her sarcastic, ironic, dry humor shine a light on the inner workings of the woman and the plight they have with society.
The Big Blonde tells the story of Hazel Morse, a woman who is trapped in city culture. The city culture is dominated by males and is isolated and uncompassionate. Set in the 1920s, the story tells of how men fulfill their expected duty of holding a daily job while women are expected to be a source of entertainment as well as “good sports”. Drinking heavily is a normal part of society and is used mostly to forget about life’s woes. The only “duty” for a woman in this time period is to find a husband and keep him happy. Hazel Morse is the protagonist of the story. She is a big breasted, bubbly, blonde woman who finds herself in a precarious position. She finds herself trying to live two lives; the one society expects her to live and the one she truly lives. She does not have self-identity:
Popularity seemed to be worth all the work you had put into its achievement. Men liked you because you were fun, and when they liked you they took you out, and there you were. So, and successfully, she was fun. She was a good sport. Men liked a good sport.(The Big Blonde)
Because she was a “good sport” she marries Herbie Morse. He lacks intelligence and is very brash. He wants a women to give him self worth. He wants someone to laugh at his jokes and admire him unconditionally. He married Hazel because he believes she is this type of girl. Once Hazel is married she does not put on this “good sport” fa?ade anymore. “Wedded and relaxed, she poured her tears freely. To her who had laughed so much, crying was delicious.”(The Big Blonde) Upon his discovery that Hazel is more than just a big blonde, Herbie grows distant and angry. He usually comes home falling-down drunk, if he comes home at all. He eventually leaves her. Hazel becomes friends with a woman who moves into the flat across the hall by the name of Mrs. Martin. She has an “admirer” and he frequents her flat and brings his friends, “the boys” over occasionally. One of “the boys” names is Ed, and Hazel and him become close. They have a relationship. It wasn’t a close one. She doesn’t think of him when he is not around. They start to frequent an establishment called Jimmy’s, where she meets men and women in the same situation as her and Ed. Jimmy’s is the classic 1920s speak-easy, a converted basement of a brownstone, much like the ones Dorothy Parker herself frequented. She starts going to Jimmy’s even when not with Ed. But just like Herbie, Ed expected her to be in good spirits all the time. When she could not one night, he left her. At Jimmy’s she became close with Charley, and then Sydney, Ferd, and Billy. She commented, “there was never another as rich as Ed, but they were all generous to her in their means.” (The Big Blonde) She began to ponder death, how to go about it, how it would stop the pain. Then she and Art begin relations. She begins to have trouble sleeping, and at Jimmy’s one of the women tells her about sleeping pills. Hazel makes a train trip to New Jersey to obtain some of the pills. After a melancholy night at Jimmy’s she goes home and takes the pills. Nettie, the maid comes in the next morning to find Hazel lying almost dead in her bed. A doctor that lives in the building is called. After two days Hazel became conscious. She was sad and furious. She doesn’t want to be alive, and she was upset the doctor keeps her that way. Nettie tries to make her feel better, even comfort her, but in a way she doesn’t. Just like everyone else she tells Hazel, “you got to cheer up tha’s what you got to do. Everybody’s got their troubles.”(The Big Blonde) The Big Blonde illustrates a woman’s quest to free herself from the trap that society places her in. Hazel however, always finds herself back in the same situation she started in.
The Waltz is a classic ironic Dorothy Parker story. A woman who is sitting casually in a restaurant/dance club is looking at a man who is dancing with another woman. She thinks to herself how she would never want to dance with a man like that. How he is the absolute worst dancer in the world, and she thinks of all the things she’d rather do then dance with him. Then he asks her to dance. She says she would love to, even though we know she does not want to. She begins to describe all the things she’d rather do like, take her tonsils out, and be on a burning boat late at night on the sea. She feels obligated to dance with him. They are rushing about the floor. She parallels this to American life and culture, “ Why can’t we stay in one place just long enough to get acclimated? It’s the constant rush, rush, rush, that’s the curse of American life.” (The Waltz) She complains about her shins and how they keep getting kicked. When the man tries to apologize, she takes the blame on herself saying it is all her fault. As her thoughts are explained, she reveals how she would do anything to stop. She wants him dead. She is outraged at his constant kicking. She tries to justify it in her head to no end. She sarcastically comments on how lovely the waltz is although we, the readers, now how she truly feels. She goes on to sarcastically say how he should really be her night in shinning armor. Then he steps again completely on her foot. Out loud, she speaks of how she likes this little step, and then finds out that he made it up. She complements him on it even though we know that she thinks it’s awful. The band goes on for another encore. The comments are happy, she tells him she wishes to keep dancing. In her thoughts, she explains how she is not tired, but dead. How everyone else in the place is having fun dancing except for she, who is stuck with “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow”. But, then she realizes if they were back at the table she would actually have to talk to him something she really would not care to do either. She is past feeling in her legs. She can’t go on anymore. She goes on to tell us all the worst things that have happened in her life:
There was the time I was in a hurricane in the West Indies, There was the day I got my Head cut open in a taxi smash, there was the night the drunken lady threw a bronze ash-tray at her own true love and got me instead, there was that summer that the sailboat kept capsizing. Ah, what an easy peaceful time was mine until I fell in with Swifty here. (The Waltz)
The band stopped again. The man asks her if she cares to dance some more and she says “ Oh that would be lovely… I’d simply love to go on waltzing.” (The Waltz) The story’s back and forth nature between what the narrator is thinking and what she is saying is highly comical and sarcastic. It shows us how she feels she should act, which is polite and happy, even though she does not feel this way. Her thoughts and actions define verbal irony.
The Standard of Living is about two young women who go to Fifth Avenue every weekend to window shop and dream. Annabel and Midge devised a game to entertain themselves while walking the avenue. The game is: “what would you do if you had a million dollars?” (The Standard of Living) This game has a provision though; you must spend all the money on yourself. That is what is supposed to make the game hard. As the girls window shop they discuss things they wish they had for themselves. They erupt in a dispute over a silver-fox coat, are they common or not common? Then, one morning midge asked Annabel again and she answers “a mink coat” and everyone was happy. Later they went shopping and saw a pair of pearls that they adore. They got up the tenacity to go in and inquire about them. Upon finding out they would cost two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, they are sad and offended that it would take up a quarter of the money already. Their faces are in gloom and their heads are low. Midge all of the sudden says, “ Suppose there was this terribly rich person… and so this person dies, just like going to sleep, and leaves you ten million dollars. Now what is the first thing you do?” (The Standard of Living) This is a sarcastic view of how women are perceived to be, materialistic and petty, even though there is more to them than that.
In these three short stories works of Dorothy Parker’s, there is an evident theme that is the core of the story, entrapment. The stories tell of women who are trapped in a precarious position because of society’s standards. Hazel in The Big Blonde is expected to be a “good sport”. The woman in The Waltz does not want to dance with the man, but it would be rude of her to decline his offer. The women in The Standard of Living, Annabel and Midge, act as they should to a certain point, but are also more independent.
Hazel is a clearer image of entrapment then the rest of the characters. She is confined to act like a “good sport”. Men expect that if they pay for her to have dinner, and give their time to a date, the least she can do is be entertaining. Her Husband, Herbie, marries her because she is a bubbly and big-breasted blonde. Once, “wedded and relaxed, she poured her tears freely. To her who had laughed so much, crying was delicious.” (The Big Blonde) She begins to release all the emotions every man has told her not to. She no longer had to be a “good sport” because she was married. This outpouring of emotion drove her husband away. Herbie’s departure did not disturb hazel, his void was easy to fill, and any man could admire her and take care of her. The irony is Hazel’s void is easily filled too; she is just one of the many big blondes through out the city. She is trapped. To be loved she must be what her sanity cannot let her be. The stereotype that she is supposed to be ditzy and fun all the time is too much to live up to, and the restrictions drive her to attempt suicide.
The woman in The Waltz is Parker’s direct sarcasm and snub at how woman were expected to act. Using the contrast of first person internal monologue and spoken conversation, Parker compares the two lives women lead. The life society expects them to live and the true life they want to live. The woman does not want to dance. She comes up with many reasons in her head why she does not want to, but she still does anyway. The woman then realizes that even if she declined to sit out the dance, she would most likely have to talk to him, and she does not want to do that either. She is trapped. I doesn’t matter what she does she will still be miserable.
Annabel and Midge in The Standard of Living are trapped in a different way. Parker uses this innocent image of girls playing a game to show how ridiculous stereotypes are. They are confined to games for amusement. They have revolving boyfriends and they have jobs. They are the new workingwoman but still have some of the qualities of the old fashioned model. Parker is showing they both can exist at the same time. This is not a commonly held notion in society, either you are one or the other. No matter which way they are seen they are misperceived.
Parker uses the theme of entrapment to illustrate the confinement of women in society. They don’t have to be shallow and content, but yet they don’t have to work a 40-hour workweek and never marry. She is trying to say that women can be a little of both, and uses her sarcasm to prove it.