Dorothy Parker writes in her poem “Unfortunate Coincidence,” “By the time you swear you’re his, / Shivering and sighing. / And he vows his passion is / Infinite, undying. / Lady make note of this– / One of you is lying. ” Surely, by most standards this sort of remark on romance would be considered by many to be pessimistic, however the story of Parker’s life reads like that of a romantic tragedy: she is unhappy in her marriage, and after an abortion she attempts suicide twice, then even divorces her husband, Eddie Parker.
Being in the 1920’s, where sexual and romantic freedom for women was still newly emerging and omen are still expected to maintain purity and uphold traditional values, her story is still viewed as an extraordinary one of the time by many. Yet, even with this newfound freedom granted by changes in societal attitudes towards romance, her writing suggests that she still finds romance and marriage to be unappealing.
Dorothy Parker, having suffered through unsuccessful romantic endeavors throughout her life, demonstrates a message often found by critics of her works that romance and marriage, particularly that of the mid twentieth century, is often stifling for the parties involved, especially omen because of the stiff social roles imposed on human beings, whose personalities and needs are fluid. First and foremost, critics show that Parker sees many flaws in the institution of marriage, often in its role in oppressing women because it confines women to motherhood and housekeeping.
In a criticism of Parker’s Ladies of the Corridor, Marion Meade writes that Parker’s philosophy that resonates throughout the play is that “[women] should be better trained, adjusted to live life without a man, a problem that she herself had yet to resolve” (Meade 350). This demonstrates not only that Parker idn’t trust men, but also that she didn’t trust romance in and of itself. She shows that marriage is crippling and stifles expression when Mildred laments about her inability to use impractical skills that marriage and the pursuit of marriage has given her, saying, “No, no fooling, what can I do?
Oh, I do know. I can arrange flowers. I’m really a whiz at that” (Parker 59). The pursuit of romance, Parker argues, leaves little time for women to truly improve themselves and pursue their passions. Today, although romantic expectations for women have gradually become more comparable to those suffered by men, both sexes re bound to expectations of the development of their domestic skills, which often limit their time expendable for the exploration of other abilities.
For example, women are still often expected to have a knack for interior decorating, or men are expected to be able to repair pipes and other assorted things around the house. Moreover, in another criticism by Ann Fox says that another character, Lulu “eventually reverts to old patterns, particularly trapped by the rhetoric of romantic love, one that would have her reattach herself to a new man, to make herself ‘useful’ again” (Fox 13). Instead of rejecting the socially nstilled ideals of romance, she is influenced by her friend Connie to, despite all warnings, completely surrender herself to another person.
In order to make herself – as Fox words it – “useful,” she must conform to societal expectations for a woman seeking romantic relations with a man. She must be like many women of the time and adhere to expectations for purity and morality, even at the sacrifice of her own happiness and personal preference. Even decades later, individuals of both sexes are willing to feign plainness or normalcy in order to attract someone else. Instead of rejecting standards, those eeking partners are in a constant struggle with themselves.
Ultimately, with this evidence in mind, Dorothy Parker’s depiction of marriage in Ladies of the Corridor is shown to not only be observed by critics, but also to be relevant in modern times, as both sexes – especially women, who are burdened with archaic social expectations – still endure many restraints as the result of marriage and the pursuit of romance. In addition, Parker explores themes of discontent with marriage in her works by showing characters feeling their individuality and entertainment robbed away by romantic and marital expectations.
For instance, she writes in her short story “Too Bad” saying that Mrs. Weldon, who struggles to understand the widening rift between her and her husband, “tried to remember what they used to talk like before they were married … It seemed that they never had much to say to each other . [l]t turned out that true marriage was apparently equally dumb” (19-20). Because Mr. and Mrs. Weldon chose to leap into their relationship hastily, disregarding their true emotions for the comfort of traditional romantic courtship procedures as shown when Parker writes they “had felt the satisfaction of the orrect… or she had always heard that true love was inarticulate” (20). As a consequence of following the romantic expectations of the time, the Weldons fell into a miserable position in which, as a married couple, they couldn’t even properly converse. Eventually, having not truly known each other for years, they divorce and their friends cannot comprehend why. The Weldons became bored to death with each other and with the loss of their individuality, which they sacrifice to meet societal standards for romantic relationships and marriage!
This same unfortunate calamity occurs today etween many couples who, whether by circumstances of religious views and accidental pregnancy or by societal pressure manifested in nagging by their families, elope and divorce in months or years because they simply have been too blinded by tradition to resist surrendering themselves and forcing their partner to do the same. Likewise, in another short story by Parker, “Such A Pretty Little Picture,” the Wheelocks, another one of Parker’s unfortunate couples, find a different sort of predicament; Mr. Wheelock, frustrated by his wife’s constant teasing and nagging, even finds himself pondering how he would put down the garden shears, or the hose, or whatever he happened to be puttering with… and walk down the gate and down the street” (8). Mr. Wheelock is tortured by the monotony of the daily grind, and even finds himself contemplating leaving his wife and child after hearing the story of another husband who does the same.
He’s stifled and weighed down by his marriage, confined to being the brunt of a cruel joke on his wife’s part as he struggles and fails miserably to repair things around the house. Because of his inability to conform to expectations of a husband, he is mocked and made to feel like n outcast in his own family. He’s reduced to a husband, not a person, and thus loses not only his leisure, as he’s constantly tinkering around the house or working, but his sense of personality, which is robbed away when he’s reduced to his husbandly obligations to his wife.
As a result of this, he longs to leave his wife and child. This often occurs in modern romantic relationships when, burdened by a new child or unreasonable expectations by his or her other half, a partner will leave the relationship in order to rediscover that sense of freedom that he or she formerly had. Thus, Parker shows that the confining tandards of romantic relationships rob the individual of his or her sense of self and of his or her enjoyment of life.
Considering the evidence above, it is quite clear that Dorothy Parker, agonized by many failed partnerships, seeks to depict romance and marriage as confines to human beings who cannot, in her opinion, conceivably adhere to rigid roles that do not account for the fluidity and nuance of human emotions. In “Unfortunate Coincidence,” she concisely and beautifully demonstrates this opinion, showing that from her experience, love truly isn’t undying as most tradition says it must be. Her works, as the evidence demonstrates, consistently contain the underlying issues she personally has with it.
She sees the negative outcomes such as divorce as inevitable. Today, although many traditions have withered away and her poem, society has become more lenient, there are still expectations that lead to displeasure. According to the American Psychological Association, 40 to 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, and the rates for those who suffer through multiple divorces is far higher. Parker having seen this, would likely be even more disillusioned with the idea of love, haunted y the dark periods of her married life.
Should couples considering the prospect of marriage today heed Parker’s warnings about romance? Are traditional romantic rituals such marriage, an institution largely rooted in the transfer of property between families, archaic in a time in which most economic wealth is concentrated in the hands of a fraction of a percent of people? Only time will tell, however there is a lesson to be learned from Parker’s warnings; one must not forget oneself in order to please one’s partner, lest he or she runs the risk of finding oneself living in mundane agony.