by Dorothy Parker
In A Nutshell
There's a reason why you don't read about Dorothy Parker when you learn about the high modernists like T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound – she was just too popular. While Eliot and Pound were publishing in small, private presses for elite reading publics, Parker was taking the 1920s by storm. Ironically, this made her something of an odd-woman-out at the beginning of the 20th century, as literature took a turn towards the elitist, small press, highbrow poetry of the new century.
Parker, meanwhile, was a central member of the Algonquin Round Table, a meeting of journalists, editors, and writers who got together to sharpen their wits… usually at each other's expense. Parker managed to take the sharp wits she honed at the Round Table and translate them into biting poems, editorials, and short stories that were published in Life, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker.
At the same time, Dorothy Parker managed to stay in the thick of just about every cultural and political turning point of the 20th century: she became a socialist in the late 1920s, got involved in the Sacco and Vanzetti trials and testified during the McCarthy-era Un-American Activities hearings in the House of Representatives.
Despite having her finger on the literary and social pulse of the 20th century, Dorothy Parker had a pretty tragic personal life. Her marriages (all three) failed. She attempted suicide several times – which, rather unfortunately, probably helped to inform the subject matter of "Resume."
Why Should I Care?
There's something satisfying about thinking through all of your options. It's like buying a car: you think that you're probably going to end up with a 2002 Honda Civic, but that doesn't mean you won't take the brand-spankin' new Audi out on the road for a test drive too. It's good to have options.
But the options in "Resume" are definitely on the darker side.
There's a reason that we call this poem a dark comedy: it's horrible and awful and strangely funny all at the same time. Let's face it – a whole lot of people (including Dorothy) have thought about suicide at some point – or at least options in death. (We bet that in middle school you were asked the age-old question "Would you rather burn to death or freeze to death?") And death is a scary, scary thing to ponder. Parker, however, manages to do so with a dry wit. She makes death mundane – even boring. And, in a strange way, she manages to make suicide even less appealing than other forms of meditation might.