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Dorothy Parker’s games of girls and women : a thematic study of victims and manipulators in selected short stories by Dorothy Parker with a checklist of Dorothy Parker’s prose exclusive of reviews Goldberg, Gail Ann

Abstract

The relationship between victims and manipulators is a basic theme in the works of Dorothy Parker. Rejected by her stepmother as a child, she grew up incapable of accepting love or affection, and spent her life alienating others on the off-chance that they too might hurt her if she allowed herself to care about them. This defensive attitude led her to view the world through a two-dimensional lens: one either "did" or was "done to"; one was either a victim or a manipulator. Parker's short stories fall into two general categories. Some deal specifically with lovers, and the rest examine more general, nonsexual relationships. The second group appeared to offer more depth and variety, and so all her prose was examined with this aspect in mind. Because her poetry is concerned almost entirely with love, it seemed too limited to be explored in detail in a broad thematic study, such as this had become. The fact that the plays were all co-authored excluded them as well, although Ladies of the Corridor does deal with the victim-manipulator theme at some length. The reading was based upon a checklist which I believe to be a complete listing of Dorothy Parker's non-critical prose. It was compiled from March 1974 until September 1975, and is based primarily upon the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, although many other guides and indices were consulted as well. Cross-references and chance allusions were also important sources of information, even though many of the leads suggested by John Keats' book proved to be false. Once the stories were read, classified, and selected, they were grouped into four categories--manipulator-oriented relationships, victimless manipulator characterizations, victim-oriented relationships, and portraits of manipulator-less (per se) victims--and discussed. This structure has certain inherent flaws, but it does point up the various balances struck between comic technique and serious intent, an important concept in these stories. It also gave a certain framework to the examination, helping to keep it from either becoming a narrow "grocery list" of descriptive criticism, or a sprawling monster galloping off in all directions at once (a very real problem in an examination of such an unscholarly, unstudied writer). The main conclusion to be drawn from such a study seems to be that Dorothy Parker merits more serious literary attention. Her reputation as a wit has preceded her--not always positively, as she herself realised--and has perhaps prejudiced us against her genuine artistic worth. "Dorothy Parker: wasn't she the one who said . . .?" Whether she was or not should be immaterial. She wished most to be remembered for her short stories; the least we can do is read them. If a study of this nature can make them more interesting or more accessible, it has served its purpose.

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