What are the themes of the short story "Arrangement in Black and White"?   

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The short story "Arrangement in Black and White" by Dorothy Parker tells of a woman known only as the woman with the pink velvet poppies in her hair who accosts her host at a gathering. The party is in honor of Walter Williams, a popular African American singer, and the woman insists on meeting him. Before she does, she goes into detail about her supposedly tolerant attitude towards black people, although it is obvious to readers that she is blatantly racist. When she meets Williams she makes all sorts of condescending and racist remarks, but she is oblivious to what she is doing and thinks that she is being polite. After the encounter, in her appraisal of Williams to the host, the woman's racist remarks continue.

The obvious and overwhelming theme of this story is race relations and racism in particular. The woman can hardly open her mouth without a racist comment coming out, but she doesn't realize this. She thinks that she is being open-minded when she says things like Williams should be grateful to be meeting all these white people. She goes on about a man named Burton, who may be her husband or boyfriend, and how he has nothing against colored people as long as they keep their place, and says he would never sit down at a table with a black person. In the end, she exclaims that Burton won't believe it that she called Williams "Mister."

The story first came out in the New Yorker in 1927, when racism was much more socially acceptable than it is now. The host and even Williams the singer do not seem to be shocked by what the woman says. Still, with this story Parker is attempting to focus on racism in society by showing a glaring example of it. In fact, Parker spent her entire career fighting racism and other social ills, and when she died, she bequeathed her entire estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., who had begun his famous crusade against racism in America.

Another theme in the story is hypocrisy, especially hypocrisy in high society where people should know better. The woman thinks that she is being so tolerant and open-minded, and even announces her broadmindedness to others, when in fact the opposite is the truth.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 12, 2019
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