Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494

Literature, philosophy, intellectual pretensions, sex, and parody are the most common elements in Woody Allen’s fiction, and all are on display in “The Whore of Mensa.” The story is Allen’s second parody of the kind of detective fiction associated with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. In the first, “Mr. Big,” Kaiser Lupowitz is hired to prove or disprove the existence of God. Allen’s intellectual satire can also be seen in such diverse works as “Spring Bulletin,” “The Irish Genius,” “No Kaddish for Weinstein,” and, especially, “The Kugelmass Episode.”

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Allen has frequently been criticized for filling his stories, plays, and films with in-jokes aimed at a limited audience, but that audience is simply anyone reasonably well read. Allen’s satire depends on his reader recognizing the comic incongruity of Sherry’s being arrested for reading Commentary in a parked car, Lupowitz’s threatening to have Sherry tell her story at Alfred Kazin’s office, the detective’s asking, “Suppose I wanted Noam Chomsky explained to me by two girls?,” and Sherry’s attempting to bribe Lupowitz with photographs of Dwight Macdonald reading.

Allen’s humor is aimed at intellectuals while making fun of them. Lupowitz responds to his first sight of Sherry: “They really know how to appeal to your fantasies. Long straight hair, leather bag, silver earrings, no make-up.” Like Alvy Singer’s first wife in Allen’s film Annie Hall (1977), Sherry is a cultural stereotype: “Central Park West upbringing, Socialist summer camps, Brandeis. She was every dame you saw waiting in line at the Elgin or the Thalia, or penciling the words ’Yes, very true’ into the margin of some book on Kant.”

As with all of Allen’s humor, a serious purpose lurks beneath the surface gags. Allen equates the need for intellectual stimulation with prostitution because so many people approach sex, emotional involvement, and intellectuality on the same shallow level. Thus, Lupowitz prepares for his meeting with Sherry by consulting the Monarch College Outline series so that he can fake his way through their Melville encounter. Sherry also fakes her responses just as a prostitute would: “Oh, yes, Kaiser. Yes, baby, that’s deep. A platonic comprehension of Christianity—why didn’t I see it before?” This superficiality is what Word Babcock wants: “I don’t want an involvement—I want a quick intellectual experience, then I want the girl to leave.”

Allen’s point is that shallowness in one segment of life is likely to spread into others. The interrelatedness of all aspects of life is emphasized when Lupowitz goes to Flossie’s and learns that for three hundred dollars he can get “the works: A thin Jewish brunette would pretend to pick you up at the Museum of Modern Art, let you read her master’s, get you involved in a screaming quarrel at Elaine’s over Freud’s conception of women, and then fake a suicide of your choosing—the perfect evening, for some guys.”

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