A Review of “A Telephone Call”

Patricia Lane

Face to Face with Obsession In “A Telephone Call,” Dorothy Parker uses diction, tone, and point of view to expose obsession and give it a voice.  Parker reveals the deep feelings of a woman experiencing an infatuation.  The language usage and tone help keep a high-paced unstable feeling throughout the story.  Point of view focuses on the thoughts and agitations of the crazed woman.  To highlight the theme Parker sensibly uses these specific literary tools.
Parker takes advantage of diction as a literary tool in “A Telephone Call.” Her use and choice of words continuously help display her theme.  The reader assumes that the presence of incomplete or run-on sentences reflects the unstable thoughts of the obsessed woman.  Parker uses short interjections to convey the desperate pleading and incoherent contemplation.  Repetition is another effect of obsession. The woman repeats the short hopeless phrase “Please, God” numerous times and usually follows it with frantic condemning or pathetic begging.  Commas, hyphens, and semi-colons connect these various streams of mixed and confused thoughts.   The obsessive woman uses aggressive and almost violent language toward the telephone, God, and even the man she adores.  Diction is an important tool that Parker uses to suggest various symptoms of obsession.
Throughout “A Telephone Call” the tone keeps the reader’s focus on the woman’s obsession.  The run-on sentences and short outbursts create a fast frantic pace.  The woman asks God for help, because she can no longer control herself.  In a sense, the story itself seems out of control. The rising action commences at the beginning of the story and strangely does not end within the story. The reader remains at the edge of their seat, listening to her frequently shifting thoughts and waiting for some kind of appeasement for her infatuation.  The tone keeps the story on the same unstable level as the woman.
Though diction and tone help display obsession, point of view seems to be the most influential literary tool used in the story.  “A Telephone Call” has an interior monologue narration.  Parker purposely uses this narration to focus on a specific point of view, the woman with the obsession.  Hearing the thoughts inside her head, the reader could not be any closer to obsession itself.  Throughout the story, the reader tries to empathize with her feelings and practically experiences her aggravation.  Most people know how it feels to want something, but few suffer such extreme and sometimes sadistic feelings of attachment.  More importantly, the story would have little substance if “A Telephone Call” was not written in interior monologue.  Someone sitting in the same room as this woman may see her as an average impatient person, who is just waiting for a phone call.  She waits for a long time, but the person in the room could think it is an urgent call.  Their knowledge would be limited and they would only see her staring at the clock or phone, and maybe pacing the room.  Surely if Parker focused on the thoughts of the man on the other side of the anticipated phone call, there would be less reference to this woman at all.  The reader would never come face to face with obsession without the narration and point of view of the woman.
Dorothy Parker’s purpose in “A Telephone Call” is to display a close view of obsession, and basically provide it with a voice.  She accomplishes this objective by using literary tools that make the theme more obvious to the reader.  The choice and arrangement of words depict how the woman’s thoughts are unbalanced and incoherent.  The tone makes the woman sound hysterical and out of control.  And without the point of view of the woman, the impact of the story would not be as significant.


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