The Choice by Dorothy Parker

This poem, The Choice, became well known during Dorothy Parker’s lifetime, as her works were eagerly accepted by the public. The Choice is memorable because of the shock effect Parker uses. She draws in her readers with softly spoken lines that sound like a love sonnet. However, had she ended the poem in a similar way, it would probably have never been remembered. By adding her sharp wit and cynicism, Parker created a poem that not only resonates with many people, but is also humorous, and blatantly honest. 

 

The Choice Analysis

Lines 1-4

With the opening lines of the poem, which you can read in full here, the speaker remembers a man she could have had, and she reveals that he would have certainly given her a huge, expensive home sitting upon acres and acres of “rolling lands”. She imagines the extravagant jewellery she might have worn. In these lines, the reader can begin to feel a sense of loss. The speaker clearly has been thinking about what might have been, and it gives the audience a feeling tinged with regret.

 

Lines 5-8

With these four lines, the speaker shifts from a feeling of regret for a possible past occurrence, to one of nostalgia and reminiscence of her actual past. While the first four lines refer to a man in third person as “he”, the next lines are written in second person, and are clearly comparing the two men. With line five, this poem begins to sound like a love sonnet. She recalls the why he (the man to whom she speaks) would sing “a melody happy and high” and she remembers how he was “sudden and swift and strong”. Then, she claims that she “never [had] a thought for another”. With this line, it seems that the speaker has given up riches and fame for true love.

 

Lines 9-12

At this point, the speaker shifts back to the first man she mentioned, and continues to expound upon all that he would have given to her, had she married him instead. She describes the “laces” and the gorgeous “shimmering” gowns, and the “shining ribbons” and the carriages in which she would ride “fine as a queen.” At this point in the poem, the readers begin to feel the rhythm and pattern of the poem, and naturally assume that the speaker will again turn back to her true lover, the one to whom she writes this poem, and profess her love for him. For this reason, the next few lines are not only ironic, but also humorous.

 

Lines 13-16

The first three lines of this section fit the pattern of the rest of the poem. The readers can see that the light personality of the man to whom she writes caused her to follow him wherever he went, letting go of the other rich man who wanted her. The final line of The Choice is so humorous because it is completely unexpected. Throughout the poem, the readers expect that the speaker feels she made the right choice in picking the man she fell in love with over the man who could have given her riches. But this is not how the speaker feels, and she reveals this only in the last line. Looking back, she cannot understand why she gave up all the riches that could have been within her grasp. She assumes that she was not thinking clearly, and that is why this poem ends with one shocking line, “someone ought to examine my head!” When the reader remembers that this poem is written to the man she chose, it becomes even more humorous.

 

Read more:   A Dream Lies Dead by Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker Background

Dorothy Parker grew up wealthy, but unhappy. Although she was born to a wealthy family in the Upper West side of Manhattan, she was not without her share of hardships. In her childhood, she lost her mother, then her step-mother, and then at the age of twenty, she lost her father. At the boarding school she attended, she was ostracized for her obviously Jewish features. For she was born to a Jewish man, and Scottish woman but looked very Jewish. Anti-antisemitism was strong in America during Parker’s boarding school years, and she was made to feel inferior to her peers. Later, Parker would admit that at least part of the reason for her first marriage was her eager desire to rid herself of a very Jewish last name.  But despite her tragic childhood, she rose to fame in the world of literary critics. She was known for her quick wit, and she wrote for various famous magazines and literary journals. She was known by literary critics as having a sharp wit, and that certainly comes through in her writing.

This particular poem, The Choice, was perhaps written to her first husband, Edwin Parker. Dorothy married Edwin when she was twenty-four, and shortly after their marriage, he left to fight in the war. When he returned, he had such a struggle with alcohol and morphine addiction, that they found themselves in serious financial trouble. In 1928, she finally ended her marriage with Edwin, and six years later she married the wealthy screenwriter Allen Campbell. Together, as Hollywood Screenwriters, the couple became very wealthy. It is easy to see how Dorothy Parker would view her marriage to Edwin compared to her marriage to Campbell. Thus, it is possible that this poem is written to Edwin. It is interesting to note, however, that her marriage with Campbell was not carefree. In fact, they separated twice. Both times, however, they reconciled, and they were together until Campbell’s death (Jewish Virtual Library).

Dorothy Parker published The Choice among other collections of poems and short stories which were eagerly received and widely circulated among literary critics. Her cynicism is strong and clear within her works, and many people resonate with her feelings. Dorothy Parker died at the age of seventy three after having a heart attack.  

Works Cited:

  • “Dorothy Rothschild Parker.” Jewish Virtual Library. American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2016. Web. 27 May 2016.
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