A Telephone Call by Dorothy Parker
In A Telephone Call by Dorothy Parker we have the theme of desperation, insecurity, uncertainty, independence, paralysis, control, dependency, reliance, change and identity. Taken from her Complete Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman and from the beginning of the the story the reader realises that Parker may be exploring the theme of desperation. By introducing God into the story there is a sense that the narrator is reliant on a force that is greater than herself. She finds herself in an uncertain and desperate position. The man that she loves has promised to return her call however over two hours later the narrator is in a state of desperation. Longing for her boyfriend to ring her. At no stage in the story does the narrator follow through on her beliefs of calling her boyfriend. Rather she falls back into a state of complete dependency not only on God but on her boyfriend too. It would appear that the narrator is unable to live her life independently of others. So insecure is she of who she really is. The narrator remains reliant on others (both God and her boyfriend). Which may be the point that Parker is trying to make. At the time the story was written in 1928 very few woman had independence from men and relied on them in order to survive. The narrator is no different she allows her insecurities to overwhelm her and even changes her mind on several occasions in order to ease the torment that she feels.
The fact that the narrator begins to bargain with God may also be important as it not only suggests that she is insecure but she may also be so uncertain of herself that she is prepared to change herself in order to please others. Something that is noticeable when the narrator begins to re-evaluate her relationship with her boyfriend and thinks about making changes that she may not necessarily need to make. Changes which would appease others but be of no benefit to the narrator. If anything the narrator may be paralyzed. She is stuck in a situation in whereby she has no control. Which further suggests that the narrator is reliant on others. The setting of the story may also be significant as the story appears to be set in the one room, a confined space, which would further play on the theme of paralysis. The narrator is trapped not only by her way of thinking but also because of her heavy reliance on others. She is trying to ensure that she reaches some type of happiness but she is striving for happiness externally and through the actions of others. Rather than looking within herself and realising that she can be happy without having to be insecure about the situation she finds herself in.
Other symbolism in the story which may be important is the telephone. Parker describes it as being black and rooted to the wall. This in many ways mirrors the mood that the narrator finds herself in. She is deeply rooted in depression because of the lack of action of others. The use of the word ‘darling’ on several occasions in the story and the uncertainty the narrator feels with the word also suggests that the narrator is insecure in herself. She is trying to normalize a situation through memory yet is uncertain of whether she was called darling on one occasion. It is as though she is pinning all her hopes on one affectionate term. That the word ‘darling’ can provide her with some security. If anything the narrator is allowing the negativity of the situation she finds herself in to cause her concern when the reality is the narrator (or the reader) does not know exactly why the narrator’s boyfriend has not called her. Some critics may suggest it is due to the fact that the relationship between the narrator and her boyfriend is over yet as readers we cannot be certain. We remain as unsure of the situation as the narrator.
The ending of the story is also interesting as the narrator continues to be overly concerned about whether her boyfriend will ring her or not. She has learnt nothing nor has she allowed rationality to remain in her mind. She has made no movement throughout the story which further suggests that the narrator is to remain paralyzed. Rather than having the confidence within herself to be rational about the reasons as to why her boyfriend may have not called her the narrator begins to count to five hundred. If anything the narrator is unnecessarily punishing herself due to her insecurities. Allowing her reliance on others to determine how she not only feels but how she acts too. Which again may be the point that Parker is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that rather than externalizing a feeling of discontent (and ringing her boyfriend again) many women at the time the story was written may have internalized their apprehensions in a predominantly male oriented world. And it is by internalizing their feelings many women may have caused themselves distress, insecurity and concern about who they might really be.