Who are the main characters in "The Waltz"? What are the literary terms in the short story and why are they used?

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Jennings Williamson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The main character of the story is the unnamed narrator, the protagonist. She is a young woman who is asked to dance by a man who is absurdly terrible at dancing. This man is the only other character in the story, and he is likewise unnamed (though she calls him several things); he also never speaks—we only hear her side of their conversation.

The narrator says of him, "He has the heart of a lion, and the sinews of a buffalo." Here, she employs metaphors which indicate that her dancing partner is quite brave (like a lion) but ungainly and rather hulking (like a buffalo). She characterizes their dancing as a "scrimmage," another metaphor which compares dancing to a sporting event; she continues this metaphor when she says that she thought someone would "have to carry him off the field," where the dance floor is the sports field. She also calls him a "hulking peasant," another metaphor. In another metaphor, she refers to him as "Mrs. O'Leary's cow." She uses a simile when she says, "I guess I'm as well off here [as I would be back at the table with him, having to make conversation]. As well off as if I were in a cement mixer in full action." She compares dancing with him to being in a cement mixer rolling around and around. She uses hyperbole when she says, "I'm past all feeling now. The only way I can tell when he steps on me is that I can hear the splintering of bones"; she exaggerates the physical effects of his clumsy movements on her own body. These devices are all used to show how miserable this woman is to be dancing with this ungainly and awkward man, as well as to show the huge discrepancy between what she's saying to him (in italics) and what she's really thinking. This massive difference seems to comment on how women are expected to behave, especially toward men, regardless of their own feelings.

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The characters are the unnamed narrator and a number of anonymous dance partners, one of whom she dubs "Double-Time Charley."

His name can be considered a literary device, that is, a metaphor. He literally dances in "double time" and his name also reflects the way the narrator view men: as two-timing cheats.

Another technique Parker uses is stream-of-consciousness. We are able to hear the narrator's thoughts as she thinks them. (This internal rhetoric appears in the italicized portions of the story.)

The purpose of Parker's satire is wit that thinly covers pain. As readers, we sometimes laugh aloud at the foolishness of the men and the narrator's biting humor. But the story is pervaded also by a sense of loneliness and near hopelessness for a better future.

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