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A Comparison Of A Certain Lady

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1340 words Published: 25th Apr 2017

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The portrayal of women in literature has varied greatly as history has progressed. In the Jazz Age, women were seen as breaking free from being just a housewife and the shadow of a man. The flapper was a woman who closely resembles the women of today. She smoked, drank, wore revealing clothing for the time, and considered herself an equal to men. A woman who had a career that rivaled most men was Dorothy Parker. She was a founding member of the Vicious Circle meaning that some men even treated her as an equal during a time when women’s right were still new and the role of what was expected of a woman was changing. In the poems A Certain Lady, To a Lady, and The Lady’s Reward Parker explores the mind of a woman, and how said woman used what she had to get what she needed.

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The poem A Certain Lady depicts how a certain woman would act while a man told her of his exploits. The woman is expected to just listen and almost be happy that the man is having successful conquests. The woman is supposed to be passive and bat her eyes and be oblivious to the entire situation because historically women were thought of being not as intelligent as men. However in this poem it is obvious that the woman is extremely intelligent. The last two lines of the poems read, “And what goes on, my love, while you’re away, /You’ll never know.” It is obvious that the speaker knows how the man really is because it is implied that while he is away she has her own agenda. This also implies equality between them, at least in the speaker’s mind. The speaker believes that as the man is allowed to do as he pleases that she is equally as deserving to do the same.

Despite this, the speaker seemed slightly upset at the man’s actions although she likely might be doing the same:

And you laugh back, nor can you ever see

The thousand little deaths my heart has died…

…Nor do you see my staring eyes of nights,

And when, in search of novelty, you stray.

The speaker definitely seems hurt by what this man is telling her. It is as though every time the man tells her of his conquests, a little piece of her heart dies. It seems like it is slowly crushing her. The speaker goes on to say that the man does not see her “staring eyes.” Perhaps this means that the man does not see what he is doing to her or even that she stares into the night wondering what he could be doing at that moment. It seems that the woman lives by the saying “ignorance is bliss.” It seems that as long as he is not telling her of his exploits. She can go on with her life and do as she pleases. As long as she pretends she is not intelligent she can have pretend happiness or continue to try filling a void that is cannot be filled. A poem that continues with the concept of the woman being intentionally ignorant to what is going on is To a Lady. However in this poem, the ignorance is used with a different motive.

Another poem by Dorothy Parker that continues with the concept of “ignorance is bliss” is the poem To a Lady. In this poem a woman is described as being “delicate” with “helpless little hands.” Taking the poem at face value, most of it seems like a woman is being depicted as fragile and defenseless. However, it is revealed to be much more.

Many are the hearts that lie beneath your feet…

Who could be a-counting all the hearts they broke?

Not a man you meet that doesn’t fall for you;

Lady, pretty lady, how I hope you choke!

It is apparent that the woman knows what she is doing to these men. She walks all over their hearts all the while pretending to be oblivious. She uses her looks and her “sensitivity” to get what she wants and also uses it as a cover for her real intentions. Knowing the real person that the woman in the poem is, the poem can be read in a completely different way. The woman lives behind the façade of being innocent yet she goes through man and leads them on over and over again. It also seems as though she gets amusement from it as well. The speaker is obviously privy to all of this. Perhaps the speaker of the poem is another woman, describing how a stereotypical woman might act. The speaker might be bitter towards this type of woman possibly because that type of woman gives the rest a bad reputation. This can be inferred from the line, “Lady, pretty lady, how I hope you choke!” The speaker definitely feels strongly about how this woman acts. This poem can be read as completely sarcastic.

Lady, pretty lady, blithe as trilling birds,

Shy as early sunbeams play your sudden smile.

How you quaintly prattle lilting baby words,

Fluttering your helpless little hands all the while!

The woman pretends to be doe-like and nonsensical yet she really has different intentions. In the next poem, the speaker tells a woman that in order for her to be accepted by society she must act a certain way.

The poem The Lady’s Reward is almost an instructional manual on how a woman should act properly. It tells the woman that in order for her to marry a man, she must act a certain way and present herself in a certain way.

Lady, lady, never start

Conversation toward your heart;

Keep your pretty words serene;

Never murmur what you mean.

Show yourself, by word and look,

Swift and shallow as a brook.

The speaker is telling the woman that she must never speak of her emotions. She must also never speak of very serious things and keep her words “pretty.” She must never let anyone know how she really feels about something. She must keep her heart secret. She may only be known by her “pretty words” and how she looks. In order for her to get married she must:

Never serious be, nor true,

And your wish will come to you-

And if that makes you happy, kid,

You’ll be the first it ever did.

The woman must never be “serious” or she will never get married and therefore never be happy. This is ironic because of the last two lines. The speaker tells the woman that she will be the first one who was ever happy to live this way. However the entire poem is telling her to act this way. The speaker tells the woman that she must act a certain way to get the man, which is supposed to fulfill her dreams, theoretically making her happy. Yet, knowing all the things she must give up and keep to herself, she will be anything but happy. This makes the poem’s title interesting. The lady’s “reward” is not a reward at all. The reward is a lifetime of unhappiness because she will not be able to full express how she feels because it would be improper and not expected of her.

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All three of these poems deal with the concepts of how a woman was supposed to behave and carry herself. Although the forms differ in the poems (the first poem and second poem have an ABAB pattern. The third poem has an AABB pattern) the message stays in tact. Each poem explores women’s roles and how women have used these stereotypes to advance themselves. An interesting thing about these poems is that they all had the word “lady” in the title and the women were always described as ladies and not as women or girls. It gives the impression that the term lady in these poems effects the over tone, using lady in a sarcastic, bitter way. It can also be argued that the speaker of all three poems is female, the first poem in first person, the second and third in third person. It seems that Dorothy Parker was very intent on shedding light on how these women acted and how they really felt. Perhaps because of the changing times that Parker lived in, she wanted to encourage the woman reader to not act this way and to stand up on her own feet.


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