Dorothy Parker, an American short-story writer and poet, became one of the greatest humourists of her generation. Dorothy Parker had strong, liberal political opinions, which were reflected in her writings, and her short story “Arrangement in Black and White” is not an exception. The story raises the problem of racial discrimination of black people in America in the first half of the twentieth century. The story has all the obligatory elements of the plot structure, except for the denouement.
The exposition is the very first sentence of the story where we get to know the protagonist – the woman with pink velvet poppies twined around the assisted gold of her hair who traversed the crowded room.
In this very sentence the setting is established, we find ourselves in a crowded room, all the rest fact concerning the setting we gather while reading the whole story. Thus we get to know that a party is organized in honour of a black musician, Walter Williams, and many representatives from the highest our higher middle class are invited.
Then immediately start the moments of complications when the woman clutched the lean arm of the host and asked him to get her acquainted with the black musician. The rest of the story follows in a form of a dialogue where the woman tells about her husband who is awfully fond of black. And she keeps on telling how she adores the talent of the black musician. The next moment of complications start when the woman is actually introduced to the musician.
She speaks very loud and praises the man, but nearly makes a mistake, telling that some woman in the room is so dark that she looks almost like a … Then the host pilots the woman to another place, meanwhile she confesses how scared and nervous she was and worries about her mistake in the conversation. The climax of the story is when the protagonist tells the readers her real aim of getting introduced to Walter Williams – she cannot wait to tell everything to her husband and other people.
The story has a complex narrative structure as we observe some flashbacks when the woman tells the host about her husband, how she loved his black nurse, how she was constantly quarrelling with him concerning black people. Every plot is based on a conflict. In this very story the conflict is obviously external, this is the conflict between one set of values (strong prejudice against people of different skin colour) and another set of values (assuming that all men are born equal, with equal features and status irrespective of their origin and race). The story is told by the observer-author, thus having a set of advantages.
The main focus of interest is the study of actions and events. The observer-author lets the readers see, hear and judge the characters and their actions for themselves. He stimulates the readers to form their own impression and make their own judgments. This very story is presented in a pictorial form, as the observer-author pictures the scenes, and tells of what anyone might see and hear in his position without entering into the minds of characters, without analysing their motives. The protagonist of the story – the woman – is characterized by indirect means of characterization only.
The main means of indirect characterization is through her speech. Thus we have a lot of oxymorons like terrible favour, terribly grateful, terribly nice, really awfully fond of coloured people, awfully nice. There are markers of informal style like contracted forms, colloquialisms, initiating signals (Oh, I’d, I’ve, Isn’t, oh, I’ll do, couldn’t move, now, mammy, raft, make me sick, aren’t we, well, Don’t you forget). There are a lot of repetitions in her speech, both lexical and syntactical (I’m finely, I’m simple finely, Will you?
Will you, please? Pretty please? I am. I know I am. Oh, I like them. I really do. Don’t you think she is a wonderful actress? Oh, I think she is marvelous. Don’t you think so? ). There are numerous markers of emotional state of the protagonist, telling as that the woman was very nervous and excited (awfully, terribly, terribly nice, really awfully fond of coloured people, awfully nice). There are some case of deviation from the norm, these are colloquial words (mummy, raft) and some grammar mistakes (I’m finely, I’m simple finely).
Then the protagonist is characterized through her actions which is of the same importance a her speech. We should also note that her speech is in contrast with her actions. She is eager to be introduced to the black musician, but the motive is rather different, she wants it just for gossips and fame. The way she shakes her hand with Walter Williams is also suggestive, as if she despises the man and thinks he is contagious. Even the way she moves and grabs the hand of the host of the party is informative.
It tells us that the woman is impudent, and likes to be in the centre of attention. Her outlook also proves it: she wears two red poppies to attract the public attention to herself. The fact that this woman is just “the woman” suggest that this character is a type and is a representative of people who are strongly prejudiced against black people but hide their feelings and pretend not to, because this is not popular in the society they live in. The tone the author assumes towards the readers can be considered familiar as there are no indices of official style and abundant use of metaphors and emotionally coloured words.
The tone the author assumes towards the subject-matter is ironical, as we observe great gap between what the woman is saying and doing, her real motives and intentions. The very title of the story imply the case of irony, because it realistically pictures the division in the society in black and white population, no matter what the woman saying about how she likes and adores black people. Thus the aim of the story is to portray the people who speak in one way but act in absolutely another way. The message here is the message that raises the problem of racial discrimination of the twentieth century America.