Dorothy Parker was born in a Jewish family on August
22, 1893 in New Jersey. (Boehm, 1) At a very young age she began writing for Vouge and soon after for Vanity Fair and later The New Yorker. (Fitzpatrick, 9) Parker
wasn’t only a writer but also a drama critic and was known as “the only female
theater critic on Broadway”. (Fitzpatrick, 73) During her life she married
twice and had complicated relationships with the men she dated. (Boehm, 5) Dorothy
Parker passed away in her apartment on June 7, 1967. (Fitzpatrick, 13) After
writing her short story Big Blonde in
1928, she received the O. Henry Award. (Fitzpatrick, 11)
Newly wedded couples, telephone conversations,
cousins, parties and so on, were just some of her most favourite topics to
write about and are still as popular nowadays as they were during her time.
(Fitzpatrick, 15) Dorothy often had writer’s block and it took her up to six
months to finish one short story. She tried to write a novel several times, but
never managed to complete one. (Goldberg, 86-87) The female characters from her
stories are all socially acceptable types of women, who can even be described
as perfect examples of what a woman should be, but in the end they all are somehow
abandoned. (Goldberg, 5) Goldberg finds in her study that Parker’s fictional
characters can be divided into two groups: “victims and manipulators”. The only
difference between the two is that manipulators have learned how to deal with
the world, while the victims haven’t. (Goldberg, 6) Norris Yates further
described her characters as “the self-absorbed female snob”, who is an
aggressive and pathetic victim or “a combination of smugness and pathos”.
It is important to mention the position in which women
were in the 1920s and early 30s, because it was a difficult one and this led to
the early women’s rights movements, when women fought for equal rights and
freedom that men already had. (Boehm, 1-2)
In her short stories, the reader gets to know most of
Parker’s character through only a very short time frame. She avoids any
specific characteristics and uses the dialogues to describe her characters. (Pettit,
66) Jean Pickering suggests that all the elements of her short stories are
actually influenced by time. For example the newlywed couple from the short
story “Here We Are” talks for about half an hour while traveling in a train.
(Pettit, 66) This can also be a downside, because characters can’t fully
develop in the stories and this is something the readers always seek. The fact
that she doesn’t name her characters adds to this as well. (Pettit, 67) Another
important characteristic for this short story is that Parker doesn’t give her
characters any kind of closure:
“Parker achieves this implication through both the
content of the continuing motion, so that the final printed statements of the
husband and wife, spoken by each (“Here We Are”), are really just another step
in the series of actions and speeches that Parker has constructed for the pair
to send them into their fictional eternity…” (Pettit, 68-69)
In the short story “Here We Are”, as Johnson
describes: “Parker (also) takes aim at
petty marital discord… Their entire conversation is a study in vacuity…”
(Pettit, 69) During their whole conversation, the reader is well aware of the
tension between the couple. They discuss a number of topics, mostly related to
their wedding, family and marriage in general, which leads them to their first
conflict about her family (Pettit, 69):
“SHE: …I know how you feel about my family. Don’t
think I haven’t seen it. Only, if you don’t ever want to see them, that’s your
loss. Not theirs. Don’t flatter yourself!
HE: Oh, now come on! What’s all this talk about not
wanting your family around?…
SHE: Well, I’ve seen it. Don’t think I haven’t. Lots
of people they get married, and they think it’s going to be great and
everything, and then it all goes to pieces because people don’t like people’s
families, or something like that. Don’t tell me! I’ve seen it happen.” (Parker,
The conflict further develops to a new one about her hat:
“SHE: No, but I mean, do you really like it?
HE: Well, I’ll tell you, I know this is the new style
and everything like that, and it’s probably great. I don’t know anything about
things like that. Only I like the kind of a hat like that blue hat you had.
Gee, I like that hat.
SHE: Oh, really? Well, that’s nice. That’s lovely. The
first thing you say to me, as soon as you get me off on a train away from my
family and everything, is that you don’t like my hat. The first thing you say
to your wife is you think she has terrible taste in hats. That’s nice isn’t
it?” (Parker, 97-98)
In Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants”,
the reader follows a conversation between a girl, named Jig and a man, referred
to as “the American”. From several parts of the conversation, it is clear that
these two have a complicated relationship. Pamela Smiley describes their dialogue
as “gender-linked miscommunication” and
uses Deborah Tannen’s and Robin Lakoff’s theories to support her thesis. Women’s
language is mostly connected to emotions, while men’s way of talking is often
more fact-oriented. (Smiley, 2)
Throughout their dialogue they encounter a few different conflicts, but
in the end, everything revolves around their main concern; Jig’s pregnancy. During
their first fall out, Jig compares the landscape across the train station in
Spain as “white elephants”. (Smiley,
“The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They
were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.
“They look like white elephants,” she said.
“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
“No, you wouldn’t have.”
“I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I
wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.” ” (Hemingway, 167)
As mentioned earlier, the American thinks only of the
bare fact, while Jig is talking about a fantasy and the over-all emotion. (Smiley,
3) A very important gender-linked proof is the way the American responds to Jig’s
questions. His responses are usually very short and indifferent, which makes it
clear that he wants to control their conversation and wants to move himself
further away from the emotions and responsibilities. Tannen describes it “a warning sign of his insincerity.” (Smiley,
6) He knows that Jig is dependent of him in many ways, one of which is him
being able to understand Spanish, so she needs him as a translator, which we
can interpret as another way of controlling or even trying to manipulate her. (Smiely,
4) Even though it really seems as if he is trying to completely remove himself
from any kind of emotional bonding, Smiley argues that his modesty is probably
the “kindest way of being gentle with Jig
without compromising his own integrity.” (Smiley, 6)
The climax of their
conflict is most definitely the American describing the abortion as:
really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an
operation at all.”
They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.” (Hemingway, 169),
which makes the reader think that the American wants
to distance himself even more, because of the fact that he is using very
precise and objective language with a clear motive behind it. (Smiley, 6) Jig
on the other hand, until this point of the conflict, decides to ask him
directly about “wanting” the abortion, which is according to Lakoff very untypical
of women’s speech, as women like to give hints rather than be straightforward
and the American answers by saying that he “thinks”, which means that he is
again removing himself from any emotions. (Smiley, 7) Afterwards Jig agrees to
the abortion, but continues to look at the hills and continues to argue with
the man (Smiley, 8):
“The girl stood up and walked to the end of the
station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the
banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a
cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.
“And we could have all this,” she said. “And we could
have everything and every day we make it more impossible.” (Hemingway, 169-170)
The final words spoken
by the characters is proof of how different their thinking is. (Smiley, 10) The
American probably sees Jig’s way of acting and talking as irrational and
hysterical, when she repeatedly says the word “please” (Mantho, 5-6):
“”I’d do anything for you.”
“Would you please please please please please please please stop
He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the
station.” (Hemingway, 170)
While Jig probably can sense the irony behind his
“”Do you feel better?” he asked.” (Hemingway, 171)
“I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with
me. I feel fine.”
The Finca Vigia ed. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.
Scribner: New York, 1987.
Meade, Marion. Dorothy Parker. What Fresh Hell Is This? New York:
Penguin Books, 1989.
Boehm, Melissa. The Relevance and Controversy of Dorothy Parker’s
Works (2011). http://hdl.handle.net/10355/10720. Web 4 Jan. 2018.
Bunkers, Suzanne Lillian, “The tragic grotesque: Dorothy
Parker’s women” (1974). Retrospective
Theses and Dissertations. 120. Web. 4 Jan. 2018. http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/rtd/120
Goldberg, Gail Ann. “Dorothy Parker’s Games of Girls and Women?: A
Thematic Study of Victims and Manipulators in Selected Short Stories by Dorothy
Parker with a Checklist of Dorothy Parker’s Prose Exclusive of Reviews.” T.
N.p., 1976. Web. 4 Jan. 2018.
Retrospective Theses and Dissertations, 1919-2007.
Pettit, Rhonda S. The Critical Waltz: Essays on the Work of Dorothy
Parker. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2005.
Parker, Dorothy; Colleen Bresse and Regina Barreca. Complete Stories
By Dorothy Parker. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.
Fitzpatrick, Kevin C., and Marion Meade. A Journey into Dorothy
Parker’s New York. Berkeley, CA: Roaring Forties, 2005.
Smiley, Pamela. “Gender-Linked Miscommunication In ‘Hills Like
White Elephants’.” Hemingway Review 8.1 (1988): 2. Literary Reference
Center. Web. 4 Jan. 2018. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1niscrTYwpdfw_VuKhbOUbNk1WxVmj4BqQFdDIkUaMAM/edit
Mantho, Mark. Gender Gaps in Hemingway’s „Hills Like White Elephants.
Web 4 Jan. 2018.