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 for 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 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)
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. 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. 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, 66-67) 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?”
Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois on
July 21, 1899. (Oliver, 12) Before he became a writer he worked as a
journalist for the “Kansas City Star”
and as a war correspondent in Italy. In 1923 he devoted himself to writing while
living in Paris and his first book “Three
Stories and 10 Poems”. He enjoyed traveling and married 4 times. Hemingway
received the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.
He often wrote about war, death, violence and was a master of emphasizing
dialogues. (Meyers, 1-5) He committed suicide at his home in Ketchum, Idaho on
July 2, 1961. (Oliver, 12)
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, 3)
“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. 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.” 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. 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, 3-6)
The climax of their
conflict is definitely when the American describes 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. 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 kind of emotion. Afterwards Jig agrees to the
abortion, but continues to look at the hills and continues to argue with the
man (Smiley, 6-8):
“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 are 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 talking?”
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 question:
“”Do you feel better?” he asked.” (Hemingway, 171)
She answers with:
“I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with
me. I feel fine.” (Hemingway, 171)
Her final words could be interpreted in different ways, but Mantho
concludes that it is definitely the American who benefits from gender-linked
communication. While Jig is forced to smile and hide her true feelings and
wishes, the American clearly gets his own way, because he knows that Jig wants
a future with both him and the child, but by emotionally removing himself from
the conversation he gives Jig only one possible option if she wants to continue
their relationship. (Mantho, 6-7)
From my point of view Jig and the American are both
very strong individuals, who are set on their goals, but due to social
expectations and her own incapability of being independent, Jig is definitely
the one who has to suffer in the end, although it isn’t clear if she will keep
the child or not. In comparison to the first short story “Here We Are” by
Dorothy Parker, I can tell that these couples are very different, but their
communication is definitely gender-linked. Both short stories were written
around the same period and therefor share some periodical similarities. It is
clear in which position women were during that time, which makes the stories easier
to understand. What I found interesting is how both authors characterize their
protagonist by just using dialogue. Without knowing much about them, the reader
gets a certain sense of what they would act like and we get familiar with the
story by understanding the miscommunication and the conflicts that occur
between the couples.
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(2011). http://hdl.handle.net/10355/10720. Web 4 Jan. 2018.
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Fitzpatrick, Kevin C., and Marion Meade. A Journey into Dorothy
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Goldberg, Gail Ann. “Dorothy Parker’s Games of Girls and Women?: A
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Parker with a Checklist of Dorothy Parker’s Prose Exclusive of Reviews.” T.
N.p., 1976. Web. 4 Jan. 2018.
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Reference to His Life and Work. Facts On File, Inc.: New York, 2007.
Parker, Dorothy; Colleen Bresse and Regina Barreca. Complete Stories
By Dorothy Parker. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.
Pettit, Rhonda S. The Critical Waltz: Essays on the Work of Dorothy
Parker. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2005.
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White Elephants’.” Hemingway Review 8.1 (1988): 2. Literary Reference
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