Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381
There are only two characters in "The Waltz," the female narrator and her male dancing partner. One of the first questions to ask about Parker's nameless narrator is, why doesn't she say 'no'? Readers may be tempted to think the era in which this story was written is a factor; surely women are more willing to say 'no' or to express their feelings in the 1990s. Yet Parker touched on a seemingly timeless quality when she created the narrator. Women today still identify with the narrator, citing incidents in their lives when they felt obligated to accommodate their partner's wishes in a social setting when they preferred otherwise.
Another important element of the narrator is the dual nature of her personality, as revealed by the external and internal voices. The external voice is the feminine voice of compliance. It says Yes, and provides information in the form of a question so as not to appear threatening. In many respects, she represents a one-dimensional, or stereotypical, character. The internal voice, as critic Paula Treichler points out, is marked by sophistication, education, and knowledge of the male sphere. It contains allusions to literary figures, popular culture, and theater. Furthermore, the voice uses slang, curses, and knows sports metaphors— language not expected from women in the early part of this century.
The male dancing partner remains somewhat of a mystery, since he never speaks in the story, and we see him only through the eyes of the narrator. While the narrator seems believable, questions about her reliability can be raised because at the story's conclusion she is willing to dance again with the same partner. And, since the narrator's internal thoughts are grounded in exaggeration, how do we know that her dance partner is as bad as she suggests? Were his kicks as vicious as she complains internally? It is important to recall that the interior monologue form offers an avenue for psychological exploration. The allusion to Freud, as well as the fact that Parker wrote several internal monologues, suggest that Parker knew something about psychology. She applied that knowledge to the creation of her narrator, who ultimately denies the pain she suffers. The depth of the narrator's denial suggests the extent to which she feels forced to conform to conventions of feminine behavior.