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The chief characters mentioned in Dorothy Parker's short story, "The Telephone Call" are the narrator, her love interest, and God.
Bordering on the neurotic, the narrator is desperate for her love interest, a man at her office, to call her. The entire story circles around her inner debate of waiting for his phone call, wondering if he will call her, and debating on whether or not she should call him. Based on the ramblings of her inner monologue, the reader can determine that the narrator is indecisive, obsessive, illogical, and has no will-power whatsoever. She attempts to rationalize her erratic behavior of waiting by the phone by praying to God for wisdom and leadership, but in reality, she only listens to her own desires and feelings of self-pity.
The Love Interest--
Although he never materializes in the story, the narrator's love interest plays a significant role. His affectionate moniker of 'darling' has convinced the protagonist of his feelings for her, and she fluctuates between feelings of adoration for him and loathing over the fact that he has not called her. The reader never finds out of if the man calls; Parker leaves the ending open for interpretation. Is the young man honorable and going to call, or is he merely a flirt and insensitive to the feelings of an impressionable young woman? The narrator's unreliable perspective makes it extremely difficult to define his character.
Called upon frequently by the narrator, God never responds to her requests or honors her 'deals' or counting. The narrator's view of God reveals her own lack of faith and selfish thinking. In the narrator's mind, her view of God is one that centers on the idea of punishment, hell, and rewards. This limited view of God seems like a prize machine, one that would reward prizes for good behavior and dole out punishments, such as the love interest not calling, for bad behavior. Her incessant whining to God annoys the reader, because her shallow requests seem more like an attempt to rationalize her behavior and choices than an actual attempt to connect spiritually to God.
A Telephone Call brings up issues such as the constraints of society and the different places men and women occupy it all through a simple device, the telephone. The character in this story is awaiting a call from her lover, who promised to call but has not. The woman goes through a variety of emotions including anger, hope, and despair. Parker uses this very uncomplicated situation to highlight the power dynamics to be found in relations between men and women, and the problems ettiquette creates in these relations.
The telephone is an important part of this story. There are specific social rules for using the telephone and they place men and women in different and unequal positions of power. Social rules around people of the opposite sex who are dating are especially restrictive. Women are not supposed to call men, men are supposed to call them. This gives men more power than women, as they can decide whether to call or not. The main conflict in this story is the woman's inability to do what she wants. She would like to call her lover but afraid to do so because society has taught her that men dislike women to call them. This leaves her stuck and unable to do anything but rationalize why her lover hasn't called, play mind games with herself in an attempt to make him call, rage because he hasn't, and beg God to make him call.
In her article "On the Wire with Death and Desire: The Telephone and Lovers' Discourse in the Short Stories of Dorothy Parker" April Middlejan discusses how the telephone is an intimate form of communication that brings together lovers while at the same time seperating and emphasizing the distance between them. Middlejan goes on to illustrate the social rules of Parker's time involving the telephone using dating books as historical sources. She suggests that the reason women cannot call men is because that would put the women in a position of too much power, and that's what causes the strain. Middlejan's article also points out that the woman in the story exhibits the three stages of grief associated with death: denial, anger, and bargaining. If you look at the woman's perspective in the story as fearing the "death" of her relationship it makes sense. As in the face of death she is powerless to do anything. She cannot even call her lover.
It is also important in this story to examine the reason why the woman wants the man to call her. For her the man calling her when he says he will validates her self worth and confirms that he wants her. If he doesn't call her to her that signals that he doesn't care about her or want her. She is trapped because if she calls him he may resent it and if he already doesn't he will now not want her. Whatever she does she suffers. She is either stuck with herself and the thought that she is unwanted, or she can cause herself to be unwanted. All of this is caused by the ettiquette surrounding the telephone and the differences in power between men and women.
Parker's story is so powerful because like most of her stories it is realistic. Most women can identify with the main character to because these social rules still apply today. There is humor to be found in the situation, but only because we are not in it. It is a reminder of how unequal society can be in its expections for men and women.
*Sorry, I forgot to mention the title "A TELEPHONE CALL" BY DOROTHY PARKER
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