The Waltz by Dorothy Parker
In The Waltz by Dorothy Parker we have the theme of struggle, identity, independence, endurance, tolerance, choice, honesty and conformity. Taken from her Complete Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman and after reading the story the reader realises that Parker may be exploring the struggles that some women have when it comes to formulating an identity for themselves. The narrator at no stage stops the waltz nor does she criticise verbally her dance partner. The only criticism that the narrator has is through her internal voice. This may be important as it is possible that Parker is suggesting that at the time the story was written (1933) women may not have had their own voice. If anything women may not have been independent of men. Something that is symbolically noticeable by the fact that the narrator’s dance partner takes the lead while both are dancing. It is also interesting that the narrator endures what is happening to her. Though her dance partner is kicking her the narrator tells him that it was her fault. Which may suggest that the narrator again does not have a true voice. It would seem that the narrator does not feel as though it is her place to criticise her partner’s dancing. At least not verbally.
It might also be a case that Parker is exploring the social conventions that existed at the time and which may still exist today. That being a woman does not refuse a man when she is asked to dance. Though some critics might suggest that the narrator is just being polite. She is paying a heavy price for the discomfort she is encountering. Which may be the point that Parker is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that woman, again at the time the story was written, were submissive to men. Something that appears to be the case with the narrator despite her general dislike for her dance partner. If anything the narrator is doing what is expected of her or expected of women in general. She is been seen though not necessarily heard. It might also be important that the narrator is not only showing a degree of endurance but she is being tolerant of her dance partner too. Though she does not know him personally she may be acutely aware that should she transgress from accepted social convention she will only place the spotlight on herself.
The fact that the narrator would prefer to sit down rather than dance could also be important as it suggests theoretically that the narrator is independent of others. However her reality is very much different because of social conventions. Conventions that the narrator may be afraid to break away from. Again as the spotlight may be placed upon her and she risks the possibility of being alienated by others who do conform to the social conventions of the time. It might also be significant that the narrator’s dance partner’s voice is muted throughout the story as Parker could be affording the narrator the freedom to think for herself without influence. It is also noticeable that at no stage in the story does the narrator think positively about her dance partner. Which may symbolically match the narrator’s feelings when it comes to her social obligations. Just as she dislikes her dance partner she may also dislike the fact that she does not have a choice when it comes to who she dances with. The reasoning being simply because she is a woman and as such is subservient to men.
Which may be the point that Parker is attempting to make. She may be highlighting the fact that society at the time was male dominated. That a woman did not have a choice or was not allowed to make up her own mind. In reality women were not allowed to think for themselves. Which is somewhat ironic considering that the reader is afforded the privilege of seeing how the narrator thinks. There is also a noticeable lack of honesty when the narrator is talking to her dance partner. She does not talk to him in the same way that she is thinking. Which may suggest something more than politeness. It may simply be a case that the narrator again knows what the social norms are and as such is protecting herself. It is easier for the narrator to lie to her dance partner than to tell him the truth. However even though it is easier for the narrator to lie she still does suffer. The reader sensing that she may have a strong distaste about what is happening. At the end of the story the reader realises that there really is no way for the narrator to say no to a man. Society will not allow for it. No matter how brutal the encounter might be for the narrator. If anything the narrator must conform to societal norms.