The Standard of Living by Dorothy Parker

In The Standard of Living by Dorothy Parker we have the theme of escape, materialism, friendship, greed, innocence, independence and freedom. Taken from her Complete Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Parker may be exploring the theme of escape. Annabel and Midge spend a lot of their time imagining what it would be like to have one million dollars and how they might go about spending the money. It is as though both girls are attempting to escape from the reality that surrounds them and which they may find boring. Something that is a little clear to the reader by the fact that neither Annabel nor Midge can settle on a suitable suitor. Also they continue to live with their families and as such may live their lives under a regime in whereby it is difficult to escape from the realities of the world. Hence the game that both girls play. It is also possible that Parker is exploring the effects of materialism on an individual and how a person despite having so much money (a million dollars) can want more. Something that happens when both girls discover that cost of the pearls.

It is as though one million dollars is no longer enough for either girl. They are only satisfied when the amount used in the game increases to ten million dollars. This may be significant as it suggests that both girls are living an illusion and have no real appreciation for the value of money. It is also interesting that neither girl considers buying themselves a house while they are playing the game. Something that would be most people’s first instinct. However due to the youth of both girls it is difficult for the reader to frown upon either girl. It is an accepted reality that most young people do not think wisely should they have a large amount of money. Thinking firstly of materials things rather than necessities like a home. If anything both girls may be innocent and not fully conscious of what is important in life. It might also be symbolically important that the one rule of the game is that neither Annabel nor Midge can spend any of the money on another person. It is possible that by having this rule Parker is highlighting the fact that both Annabel and Midge in reality are focused on themselves.

It is also interesting how like-minded both girls are even going as far as dressing in similar clothes. If anything Parker may be suggesting that neither girl is independent of the other. Which is somewhat ironic considering the nature of the game that they play. One million or ten million dollars would buy a person a lot of independence. It might also be significant that on the one occasion that the girls have a disagreement. Annabel eventually changes her mind and is in agreement with Midge. It is possible that by following Midge’s lead Parker is suggesting that Annabel is dependent on Midge’s approval and vice versa. Though both girls are friends their friendship may not be healthy as they appear to please the other in order to maintain the status quo. Something which would again suggest that neither girl is independent of the other and if anything may seek the approval of one another. Which may leave some readers to suggest that the friendship between both Annabel and Midge is hollow. It has no substance. Their entire time appears to be spent playing their game or living in a fantasy world.

There is also a sense that both girls believe that materialism will bring happiness. Though again it might be important to remember how young both girls are. If anything they may lack life experience and as such their naivety may be deemed to be acceptable by some critics. The fact that Midge increases the value of the game from one million to ten million dollars could also be symbolically significant as it could suggest that Midge will not be beaten. She and Annabel will continue to live the illusion that satisfies them so much. The fact that both girls take a dislike to the clerk is also interesting as the clerk symbolically could represent a stumbling block for both girls. Though again the increase in the monetary value of the game takes away any power that the clerk may have over the girls. Which may be the point that Parker is attempting to make. She could be suggesting that both girls are not only free to think as they feel but they are also not obliged to live their lives shackled as society might like them to be. Something that might leave some readers to suggest that neither girl is prepared to conform to the rules that society might dictate to them. Once Annabel and Midge have one another they do not need to engage with life on life’s terms.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Standard of Living by Dorothy Parker." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 1 Jun. 2018. Web.


  • It is interesting to see that you pointed out the attitude of two girls towards the clerk. Indeed girls instinctively dislike the clerk because he can shatter their imaginary world by a certain price value; Midge even told the clerk that they were just looking around repeatedly. So glad that I found your post.

  • I read several reviews of this short story and i prefer yours. The majority judged the girls harshly, which i didnt hear in DP. The themes you put forth were wider in range and more balanced. I sympathized with the girls; Flawed as people are they were playing a game. We all know girls like these two and DP’s description of them is engagingly acidic, funny and spot on. The position of them in a society that posits money as power and the game they invent is the vehicle for the story.

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