How do Dorothy Parker's poems "Wail" and "Men" reveal her views on romantic relationships?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Assuming that the speakers in each of these poems is speaking for the author, we have a pretty good indication of how Dorothy Parker feels about romantic relationships. 

"Men" is the most obvious of the two poems in terms of how Parker feels about men and romance. The poem refers to an unnamed "they" throughout, but of course the title tells us just who she means. This poem is an unflattering depiction of the things men ("they") do to bend women ("you") to their will.

First, men claim that women are their "morning star" and appear to like women just as they are. In other words, men knowingly tell women exactly what they want to hear in order to win them over. Then, when women "return the sentiment" (in other words, once she is "hooked"), everything changes. Men want only to shape and change women into whatever they want them to be:

They'll try to make you different;
And once they have you, safe and sound,
They want to change you all around.
Your moods and ways they put a curse on;
They'd make of you another person.

Of course that is bad enough, but the last lines of the poem suggest something a little more insidious. Not only do men want to change women, but they do everything they can to hold them back. Parker says:

They cannot let you go your gait;
They influence and educate.
They'd alter all that they admired.

In the end, she says, everything the men once admired--or at least claimed to admire--are the very things they want to alter and change. She finishes the poem with these words:

They make me sick, they make me tired.

It is clear from this poem, then, that Parker has no use for any men (which is all men, in this poem) who are going to deceive her and then do everything in their considerable power to re-create her into a preconceived image of the woman they want. While this may not be all men, Parker certainly paints them all with the same brush in this poem. She sees a romantic relationship as something to be desperately avoided in order to preserve her own identity.

In "Wail," the speaker (presumably expressing Parker's views) explains that the relationship she was in has just died, and 

Love has gone a-rocketing.

Her next line sets the almost casual tone for how she is handling the breakup (loss of love): 

That is not the worst;
I could do without the thing,
And not be the first.

Joy has gone the way it came.
That is nothing new;
I could get along the same, --
Many people do.

However, there is something she will miss about the relationship she lost. While she made it perfectly clear that she, like so many others, will recover from losing the love and joy from that relationship, she has lost something she valued even more:

Dig for me the narrow bed,
Now I am bereft.
All my pretty hates are dead,
And what have I left?

Thinking about all the "pretty hates" she has lost has made her want to die, thus the digging of a "narrow bed." She does not miss the good things; what breaks her heart is having nothing to hate now. 

This is clearly a distorted and cynical view of love and relationship, as we know that it is the positive things (love and joy) we should miss when a relationship is over. We certainly remember the bad things, but they are not the things that make us want to give up or die.

In general, then, we can conclude that Dorothy Parker did not see romantic relationships as positive things in her life. Either the men erased her in order to create what they wanted, or she was most connected or attracted to the negative things in a relationship.  

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