What is the main theme in Dorothy Parker’s poems "Wail" and "Men," and how does the element of humor, irony, tone, style, or diction illustrate that theme?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Both of the poems "Men" and "Wail" by Dorothy Parker deal with the central theme concerning the disillusionment of love.

Parker clearly portrays the theme of disillusionment of love in "Men" through the literary device antithesis, which she uses as part of her style. An antithesis occurs when an author uses opposing ideas or phrases in close proximity. Dr. Wheeler gives us the example, "I burn and I freeze" (Dr. Wheeler, "Antithesis"). Parker begins her poem by describing how much men claim they worship women and then also states, "If you return the sentiment, / They'll try to make you different." Since Parker is using the idea that men will try and change you in close proximity to her initial description of men praising women, we clearly see that she is creating antithesis.

Parker's poem "Wail" is slightly different in that it describes a breakup, whereas "Men" describes an ongoing and frustrating relationship. However, the general theme of the poem is still the same in that she is describing how she feels disillusioned by love. In this poem, she uses some fairly powerful diction to relay her theme. Diction simply refers to an author's choice of words. There are always multiple ways to say the same thing, and word choice will do a great deal to influence tone, mood, and general idea. Dr. Wheeler gives us the example of describing a rock as a "mound" vs. an "anomalous geological feature"; the second word choice would more likely be used in a scientific context than anything else (Dr. Wheeler, "Diction"). In the poem "Wail," Parker uses the term "a-rocketing" to describe the fact that the speaker's lover has just broken up with or abandoned the speaker. Using "a-rocketing" produces a slightly comic affect because the reader is forced to picture a lover taking off on a rocket. Using "a-rocketing" also emphasizes the idea of the breakup far more than just the word breakup would because a rocket produces a much more explosive image than just the word breakup. In addition, diction choices like "narrow bed," "bereft," and "dead" paint the image that she has given up on life due to being disillusioned by love.