Dorothy Parker

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What are the symbols in Dorothy Parker's "Arrangement in Black and White"?

Quick answer:

Symbols in the short story "Arrangement in Black and White" include the protagonist's dyed blond hair, the pink velvet poppies she wears, the bookcase Williams stands beside, and the woman's husband, Burton.

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Symbols in "Arrangement in Black and White" include the "assisted gold" of the unnamed woman's hair, the "pink velvet poppies" she wears wreathed in her hair, the bookcase that Walter Williams, the Black singer and celebrity, stands near, and the woman's husband, Burton.

While lying to herself about not being a racist, the story's female protagonist reveals herself to feel superior to Black people through and through. She identifies as white, but the "assisted gold" of her hair (in other words, it is dyed blond) suggests she might not be quite as white as she constructs herself to be. The pink velvet poppies, fake and showy flowers, symbolize how phony and showy the woman is. They are also a bit tasteless as an ornament, representing the tastelessness of the woman's patronizing words about Black people. In addition, they wrap around her hair like a crown, symbolizing her self-perception as a "queen" bestowing her splendor on a Black man.

The bookcase that Walter Williams stands beside is mentioned twice, and it symbolizes Williams's intelligence, a sharp contrast to the inanity of the woman who thinks she is superior to him. The bookcase is a strong suggestion that Williams is, in fact, the superior one.

Finally, the woman projects her own racism onto her husband, Burton, who is not at the party and can't speak for himself. He becomes the symbol of what she and people like her really think about Black people.

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