Study Guide

Here We Are Analysis

By Dorothy Parker

  • Tone

    Light-Hearted… but with a Little Bite

    In "Here We Are" Dorothy Parker isn't out to chop anyone's head off or unveil the inner workings of the cosmos: she's poking fun at human foibles and finding the comedy inherent in any failure to communicate.

    The story basks in the humor of seeing people engage in totally dumb arguments in order to avoid the things they're really thinking about. Instead of openly addressing her anxiety over consummating the marriage, the wife castigates her husband for not liking her hat:

    "Oh, really?" she said. "Well, that's nice. That's lovely. The first thing you say to me, as soon as you get me off on a train away from my family and everything, is that you don't like my hat. The first thing you say to your wife is you think she has terrible taste in hats. That's nice, isn't it?" (49)

    But the story has bite to it as well. "Here We Are" poses serious questions about marriage and relationships—particularly, "How do you know you're with the right person?" Obviously, this couple hasn't actually answered that question, and the story plays with their confusion in order to win snickers.

  • Genre


    "Here We Are" is a pretty funny story, but it's not exactly comedy, because in the classic definition of the term a comedy needs to have a happy ending. And these newlyweds aren't exactly happy by the end of this story. In fact, nothing much has changed: these characters are as sexually frustrated, awkward, and unable to say what they want as they were at the beginning.

    Nope, this story falls under the umbrella of satire. But what is it satirizing? The answer to that question—since you can't really tell us the answer, we being a faceless amalgamation of creative interpretation geniuses, and you being an unknown-yet-no-doubt-brilliant reader—is modern attitudes towards marriage, sex, and relationships.

    Read the following paragraph and see if you can feel the satirical burn:

    "You know, lots of times," he said, "they say that girls get kind of nervous and yippy on account of thinking about—I mean. I mean—well, it's like you said, things are all sort of mixed up and everything, right now. But, afterwards, it'll be all right. I mean. I mean—well, look honey, you don't look any too comfortable." (42)

    See? These two innocent babes in the woods are in quite a tangle over the sexy moment-of-truth towards which they are speeding. The husband seems almost as nervous as his wife. Parker is poking fun at the way people (back then) were afraid to talk openly about things: her satire is targeted just as much at this marital failure to communicate as it is at sexual stuff.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The title comes straight from dialogue in the story—repeated both at the beginning and the end. After the husband says, "Here we are" the wife replies:

    "Yes, here we are," she said. "Aren't we?" (113)

    This leads to a couple other questions: where are they? And where is "here"? We guess you could say that where they are is in the Land of Uncertainty. They haven't arrived at a conclusion about their marriage and domestic life—it's all up in the air. So the wife is wondering if they're really "here"—if they've really arrived, like a pair of quirky short story Moseses, in the Promised Land of Marriage, where everything is nice and calm and stable and everyone lives happily ever after.

    It seems like they haven't actually arrived there yet, and it's unlikely that having sex for the first time will be the magic solution that puts everything together and makes them less likely to quarrel.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    We end up where we started—with the wife repeating her line from the beginning of the story: 

    "Yes, here we are […] Aren't we?" (113)

    The repetition might imply that their squabbling is going to continue all over again.

    Will they ever even consummate the marriage, at this rate? Or will they continue in some sort of Kafkaesque purgatory, bickering forever without getting down to business? We don't know, but given Parker's fondness for irony and satire, it seems like the purgatory option is a decent possibility.

    The end of the story is sort of a fake-out, too: the husband and wife pledge not to fight anymore, but end up arguing about the hat again pretty much right away. Then they shut that down, but with no real sense of resolution—it seems like it's just going to keep going… at least until they get down to sexy, sexy business.

  • Setting

    A Compartment on a Pullman Train Headed to New York, Circa 1931

    Back in the day, people used to ride trains. We mean, they still do—subways, and commuter rails, and Amtrak.

    But it was different back in olden times. Trains were romantic. They were both public and private. You could meet a stranger on a train and make a murder pact, or you could solve a murder on a snow bound train. But you could also talk about sex in veiled terms—which is exactly what the couple in this story is doing.

    These nominees for Most Awkward Couple of The Year are in a Pullman train compartment (probably around 1931, when the story was published), which is a pretty snazzy place to be. Pullman was the gold standard: it set the glamorous standard for other train compartments. These trains offered luxury and privacy all the while hurtling towards a destination. Two destinations, in the case of this short story: the train is speeding towards New York City, and these crazy newlyweds are speeding towards sexy, sexy adulthood.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (1-2) Sea Level

    Aside from getting the basic point of this story (psst, they're secretly both thinking about sex)—which is probably pretty easy—"Here We Are" is a really easy, straightforward read. Here, we'll give you an example:

    "Well!" the young man said.

    "Well!" she said.

    "Well, here we are," he said.

    "Here we are," she said. "Aren't we?"

    "I should say we were," he said. "Eeyop. Here we are."

    "Well!" she said. (5-10)

    See. That's not hard. You just have to be able to read the word "well" and a few other monosyllabic words. Even "eeyop" is just a dude saying, "Yep," in a weird way. The main characters definitely aren't laying down any rocket scientist lingo or launching into any discussions about obscure Hungarian philosophy.

  • Writing Style

    Colloquial 1920s and 1930s American Dialogue

    Parker's story is mainly composed of dialogue. Her two characters don't talk in Shakespearean soliloquies, but with the accents and quirks of 1920s and 1930s American English:

    "Well!" the young man said.

    "Well!" she said.

    "Well, here we are," he said.

    "Here we are," she said. "Aren't we?"

    "I should say we were," he said. "Eeyop. Here we are."

    "Well!" she said. (5-10)

    This is a great example of realistic, inarticulate English, spoken by two people who have no idea what they've gotten themselves into. They might be a little more articulate than that, throughout the rest of the story—but this is still a good example of their general mode of speaking.

    However, when Parker breaks into her own narrator voice, as she does at the very beginning and towards the very end, she writes in a more poetic and evocative kind of English. Here are two examples.

    She had been staring raptly out of the window, drinking in the big weathered signboards that extolled the phenomena of codfish without bones and screens no rust could corrupt. (4)

    There was a silence with things going on in it. (97)

    In the first sentence, we get the sense that Parker is smarter and more articulate than her characters. Exhibit A, in demonstrating that point, would need to be the words "extolled the phenomena [.]" In the second sentence, we see her style doing its cryptic job: what, exactly, is going on in the silence? Kissing? Frantic thinking? We can't be entirely sure—but the point of writing this way is to make us guess.

  • Boneless Codfish and Rust-less Screens

    There aren't too many symbols or even images in this story. After all, it's nearly all dialogue between two people—and they're not exactly speaking in poetic, Shakespearian language that's dripping with metaphors. But, at the very beginning, when the narrator is setting up the situation, we get a brief piece description, which includes images that hint at a deeper meaning:

    She had been staring raptly out of the window, drinking in the big weathered signboards that extolled the phenomena of codfish without bones and screens no rust could corrupt. (4)

    While her husband finishes packing, the wife gazes at the scenery in distraction. The "phenomena" advertised by the billboards—boneless cod and rust-less screens—are images of innocence.

    The rust-less screen is one that is described to be "uncorrupted," language that mimics the very 1930s understanding that sex "corrupted" young women and left them less-than-wholesome. Also, to delve deeper, a screen is something that protects an opening (a window or door) from unwanted intrusion. It's not as impenetrable as a door—you can tear a screen, especially if it's weakened by lust, erm, we mean rust—but it still offers some protection.

    Huh. You know what else protects an opening, but can be easily rent? A hymen.

    More scandalous still is the image of the cod. A (kind of icky) comparison is often made between fish and vaginas—just think of the term "fish taco" and the vaginal association often given to oysters. And this particular kind of fish is "boneless." Yup. That's a virgin fish, folks. No phallic bone in this fish—not yet, at least.

    Recap: Parker is implying that the wife is contemplating her virginity as she looks out the window, wishing it farewell, before turning to the future, represented by her husband.

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Objective)

    Parker doesn't really go into her characters' heads—the story is almost entirely comprised of dialogue, except for the beginning paragraphs and the occasional stray sentence. Parker does make a slight judgment at one point, though, writing, "eight minutes for the settling of two suitcases and a hat-box is a long time"—meant to indicate the husband is avoiding talking to his new wife and hashing out the details of what's going to happen in their marriage (bed).

    Aside from that one little tidbit though, the presentation is entirely objective, straightforward, and judge-for-yourself. Part of the humor of the story comes from figuring out what, exactly, the characters are tiptoeing around, and the objective third person perspective helps in creating this puzzle.

    It's a little like the Hemingway story, "Hills Like White Elephants"—only, in "Hills Like White Elephants," the main characters are (spoiler alert) discussing whether to have an abortion or not, and here the characters are (implicitly) worrying about consummating their marriage.

  • Plot Analysis

    Exposition (Initial Situation)

    Love and Luggage

    There's a smidgen of exposition at the beginning before we get into the real substance of the story. Of course, the story is just two people talking, so it feels kind of exposition-y the whole way through.

    But if you look, you can see the dividing line between the exposition and the rising action: at the beginning the husband takes an extra-long-time to pack the luggage onto the train compartment—indicating he's avoiding something or is nervous about something—and then he and the wife settle in, making some exclamations about how they're married and what a big deal that is. Really, that's the exposition. We learn two major facts: the husband is nervous or avoiding something and we're looking at a pair of newlyweds.

    Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

    Anxieties… Sexy Anxieties

    When the wife starts worrying about how their marriage is going to work out—or, more specifically, how the first night is going to work out, if you catch our drift (our drift = sexy sexy sex)—then the action begins to rise.

    She starts to worry about all the people all over the world, doing it all the time—getting married, she says she means, even though she obviously means something else—in China and other far-flung locales. The husband tells her to stop thinking about these things, implying that it's all going to be okay. But that can't prevent an escalating series of bickering matches: they argue about whether the husband likes the wife's family, whether he likes the wife's hat, and so on.

    Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

    Crush List

    The story reaches the crest of its crisis when the husband and wife accuse each other of having crushes on other people, and suggests they each should've married someone else (not all that seriously, though, it would seem). The wife accuses the husband of having a crush on her friend Louise—who would probably share his bad taste in hats—and the husband accuses her of liking this dude named Joe Brooks.

    It finally ends when the husband says that he didn't maliciously intend to talk about his wife's smokin' hot friend, Louise, in an insensitive way—it was just meant to be a funny peek into his stream-of-consciousness as he was standing at the altar. This proves to be basically acceptable to the wife, but it doesn't mean that their ridiculous squabbles are over (the hat argument's going to come back).

    Yet things do tend to chill once they've gotten this quarrel out of their respective systems. Of course, the whole argument probably has more to do with unresolved tensions over their unconsummated marriage, than with any real fears about potential adultery or anything like that.

    Falling Action

    Enjoy the Silence

    After the big blow-up, they still keep bickering but the action is definitely falling. They talk about what they're going to do once they get to New York—tip-toeing around what they really plan on doing. The wife talks about writing thank you notes to people from the wedding, but then changes her mind. Immediately thereafter, the narrator's voice breaks in for the total of one sentence: "There was a silence with things going on in it." (97)

    Once the silence ends, they're still bickering and it becomes clear they have yet to consummate the marriage. They might've made out or exchanged a romantic moment of some sort—since, once it's over, they're pledging not to fight anymore. However, they immediately break this promise when the wife briefly re-ignites the argument about her hat. 

    Resolution (Denouement)

    Fight Club for Life

    The story doesn't have a "resolution", really—nothing is actually resolved, and we're pretty much back where we started, considering that the last line repeats dialogue from the beginning ("Here we are… aren't we?" [113]). The husband shuts down the argument about the hat, saying that they're almost in New York (and, hence, are about to do the deed), throwing in a few exclamations about how they're married—they're married!

    This offers no guarantees that they're not going to have another forty petty-yet-intense verbal fights before they get off the train. In fact, the wife's repetition of the lines from the beginning shows that she is still as anxious as she was before—we're not over with this series of comic, absurd squabbles. It might very well continue for the rest of the couple's lives…

  • Allusions

    Historical References

    • The Biltmore Hotel