Dorothy Parker’s 1916 poem “Parties: A Hymn of Hate” playfully lambastes the boorishness and false niceties of partygoers. Parker wrote “Parties” as part of a series of hate-themed poems on topics such as “Women,” “Men,” “Actors,” “Bores,” and “Books.” Like all of Parker’s hate poems, “Parties” begin with a pithy couplet— “I hate parties; / They bring out the worst in me”—and then, stanza by stanza, eviscerates the subject from all sides. In this sense, “Parties” is essentially an essay dressed as a poem. Like an essay, it conveys a singular argument, stating its thesis outright and providing a litany of evidence.
As a result, the poem’s style and structure is closer to prose than verse. Parker’s stanzas are free of all verse forms, and her line breaks recognize phrases and utterances over rhythms. The poem succeeds in capturing the cadences of speech, taking on the tone of a witty, disgruntled diatribe. To drive the point home, Parker concludes the poem with the same punchy couplet that begins it.
- The first stanza is an italicized couplet that lays out the poem’s argument and establishes its wittily withering tone.
- The second and third stanzas describe the “Novelty Affair,” a themed party in which the guests are invited to dress up. The speaker finds these costumes—“Old-Fashioned Girls” and “Hawaiian gentlemen”—predictable and passé. The speaker then excoriates the “clean, home games”: guessing numbers of seeds, threading needles, and naming flowers. When the hostess “says she’ll just die if you don’t come to her next party,” the speaker hopes she means it.
- The fourth and fifth stanzas describe the “Bridge Festival,” a party devoted to playing the once-popular card game. The speaker is unenthused by the prizes, hearth-brushes and garlands, and dismayed at being partnered with a boorishly competitive man “who wrote the game.” Arguably more detestable is the man who feigns nonchalance while playing aggressively.
- The sixth, seventh, and eighth stanzas describe the “Day in the Country,” a daylong outing the speaker uncompromisingly loathes. Each aspect of the event is odious: the tightly packed automobiles, the early-morning start, the ubiquity of hard-boiled eggs, the harvesting of dogwood amid poison ivy, and the banal comments about the grass. As the speaker puts it, “after the first fifty miles, / Nature doesn’t go over so big.” By evening, the lights of the city are a relief.
- The ninth, tenth, and eleventh stanzas describe the “Dinner Party,” which the speaker refers to as “the lowest form of taking nourishment.” The conversation is boring, ranging from home-improvement projects to business prospects. When the evening transitions to looking through baby pictures while listening to Harry Lauder records, the speaker’s dismay deepens. As she leaves, she invites the host and hostess to dinner “over [her] dead body.”
- The final stanza simply repeats the initial couplet, underscoring the speaker’s unequivocal hatred for parties.
The literary device Parker employs most prominently in “Parties” is irony. Throughout the poem, Parker produces irony through diction and phrasing. She finds words with two meanings or connotations, using them to convey both the pleasant sheen of the party and the speaker’s discontent.
- In the second stanza, the hostess of the Novelty Affair is described as “awfully clever.” Parker harnesses the double meaning of “awfully,” taking the figurative word literally. The hostess’s cleverness is awful.
- In the third stanza, the speaker tells the hostess that the party is “a riot.” Again, Parker subverts the figurative meaning of the word—a fun time—by pointing to the literal meaning. The party is chaotic, not fun.
- In the sixth stanza, the speaker discusses the Day in the Country, pointing out that “everybody wants to make a long day of it— / They get their wish.” Parker plays with the idea of a “long day.” Whereas the revelers view a “long day” as a boon, the speaker touches on the drearier connotations of the phrase. What appears to be agreement is really dissent.
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