Dorothy Parker’s best-known stories are “The Waltz,” “A Telephone Call,” and her masterpiece, “Big Blonde,” winner of the O. Henry Memorial Prize for the best short story of 1929.
“The Waltz” and “A Telephone Call,” both dramatic monologues, present typical Parker characters, insecure young women who derive their social and personal acceptance from the approval of men and who go to extremes, whether sincere or hypocritical, to maintain this approbation. The characters, anonymous and therefore legion, elicit from the readers a mixture of sympathy and ridicule. They evoke sympathy because each is agonizing in an uncomfortable situation which she believes herself powerless to control. The waltzer is stuck with a bad, boorish dancer—“two stumbles, slip, and a twenty-yard dash.” The other woman is longing for a telephone call from a man she loves who does not reciprocate her concern: “Please, God, let him telephone me now, Dear God, let him call me now. I won’t ask anything else of You. ”
These predicaments are largely self-imposed as well as trivial and so they are ludicrous, unwittingly burlesqued through the narrators’ hyperbolic perspectives. Both women are trapped in situations they have permitted to occur but from which they lack the resourcefulness or assertiveness to extricate themselves. The waltzer not only accepts the invitation to dance but also hypocritically flatters her partner: “Oh, they’re going to play another encore. Oh, goody. Oh, that’s lovely. Tired? I should say I’m not tired. I’d like to go on like this forever.” These cloying words mask the truth, which she utters only to herself and to the eavesdropping audience: “I should say I’m not tired. I’m dead, that’s all I am. Dead and the music is never going to stop playing. ” Enslaved by an exaggerated code of politeness, therefore, she catches herself in the network of her own lies: “Oh, they’ve stopped, the mean things. They’re not going to play any more. Oh, darn.” Then she sets herself up for yet another round of hypocritical self-torture: “Do you really think so, if you gave them twenty dollars? Do tell them to play this same thing. I’d simply adore to go on waltzing.”
“A Telephone Call”
Like the waltzer, the narrator in “A Telephone Call” is her own worst enemy. Suffering from too much time on her hands—she is evidently not occupied with a job or responsibility for anyone but herself—she can afford the self-indulgence to spend hours focused exclusively on the dubious prospect of a phone call. She plays games with God; her catechism is a parody: “You see, God, if You would just let him telephone me, I wouldn’t have to ask You for anything more.” She plays games with herself: “Maybe if I counted five hundred by fives, it might ring by that time. I’ll count slowly. I won’t cheat.” She is totally preoccupied with herself and her futile efforts to fan the embers of a dying love; having violated the social code by phoning her former admirer at his office, by the monologue’s end she is desperately preparing to violate it again by calling him at home. Nevertheless, she is ludicrous rather than pathetic because her concern is so superficial (although her concentration on the anticipated phone call is also a barrier against the more serious reality of the...
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