Date of Award

5-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

College/School

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department/Program

English

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Melinda Knight

Committee Member

Laura Nicosia

Committee Member

Laura Jones

Subject(s)

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)--Short stories--Criticism and interpretation, New Yorker (New York, N.Y. : 1925), Short stories--Women authors--History and criticism, Feminism and literature--United States--History--20th century, Race in literature

Abstract

The re-evaluation of texts written by women from newer critical perspectives has allowed for more nuanced critical analyses of Dorothy Parker’s writing compared to the earliest commentaries which often conflated her biography with her literature or focused on her humor without acknowledging the underlying social criticism. This thesis is one such analysis, examining how Parker used the popular magazine market as a venue for publishing short stories that criticized class inequity, racism, and gender norms in the middle and upper classes during the first decades of the twentieth century. The content within popular magazines created an image of the ideal life, formulated around dominant ideologies and prejudices particular to the editors’ tastes and intended to attract specific readerships. Parker’s magazine short stories were not only literary products of her culture; they were also commodities that contributed to the creation of that culture and attempted to subvert or dismantle the hypocrisy and inequity of the dominant ideologies marketed to the intelligent masses by popular magazines.

In “A Certain Lady,” “From the Diary of a New York Lady,” and “Song of the Shirt, 1941,” all published in the New Yorker, Parker presents self-absorbed, materialistic female stereotypes in social situations representative of the stories’ time periods to suggest that cultural forces beyond the characters’ control inform and validate their negative behaviors. She uses the New Yorker as a venue for publishing criticism of the upper-class culture that created the materialistic, status-obsessed New York society women who made up a substantial portion of the magazine’s readership. Parker’s New Yorker stories critique the values of the New York upper class that caused the ideology of consumption to become internalized by the magazine’s elitist readers.

Parker subverts traditional uses of racial difference to criticize racial hypocrisy among the upper classes in “Arrangement in Black and White,” also published in the New Yorker, and “Clothe the Naked,” published in Scribner’s Magazine. “Arrangement in Black and White,” published in the late 1920s, exhibits Parker’s characteristic humor to satirize the internalized racist beliefs of a woman who claims to be above the race question. By contrast, in the late 1930s, after Parker had become actively involved in political activities protesting social injustices, she publishes “Clothe the Naked” without any attempt to use humor or satire to mask her criticism of the treatment of poor blacks at the hands of rich whites.

From a feminist perspective, “The Sexes,” “Here We Are,” and “The Lovely Leave” demonstrate how men and women in specific historical contexts perform socially constructed gender roles, particularly when interacting with the opposite sex. These stories anticipate Judith Butler’s theories on performative gender identity. The stories were published in The New Republic, Cosmopolitan, and Woman’s Home Companion respectively, and such publication choices suggest an effort on Parker’s part to satirize popularly held notions about gender reinforced by these magazines, thus subverting each magazine’s dominant ideology.

This study is essential to the re-examination of Parker’s works that recent critics have begun, to elucidate Parker’s important role as an early feminist and insightful social critic. It contributes to the body of scholarship on Parker by considering short stories that others have not and by contextualizing those stories within the magazines that promoted the very ideas about class, race and gender that Parker critiques.

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