Summary and Analysis of Penelope by Dorothy Parker: 2022

Introduction to the Poet:

Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967) was an American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.
She had an unhappy childhood but she rose to acclaim, for both for her literary output in The New Yorker and as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist.
Dismissive of her own talents, she deplored her reputation as a “wisecracker.” Nevertheless, her literary output and reputation for sharp wit have endured.
Parker died on June 7, 1967, of a heart attack at the age of 73.

About Penelope:

The poem ‘Penelope’ is one that reflects upon the subjugation and domination over the great deeds of women. If a woman does not fight over on the battlefield, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she is unable or weak. In fact, she does all the work as a homemaker. Keeps the house safe and keeps the suitors away. Thus, this poem is a pathetic sight of the wife that only King Odysseus is portrayed as a nobleman and his bravery is personified- but her efforts are ignored.

The Setting of Penelope:

The poem is set in the earlier era when Homer has written the poem of Odessy, praising the great deeds of King Odysseus. This poem reflects on the pathos of the wife Penelope as she stays at the house. In spite of doing all the work, she is ignored. Thus, the setting is of an older era, referring to the work of Homer.

Poetic Devices in Penelope:

Rhyme scheme: ababaccdde
Сlosest stanza type: sonnet.

Summary of Penelope:

“In the pathway of the sun,
In the footsteps of the breeze,
Where the world and sky are one,
He shall ride the silver seas,
He shall cut the glittering wave.”
The wife of Odysseus, Penelope speaks the qualities of her husband; the brave, intelligent, versatile Odysseus. She goes on to praise her husband that in the pathway of Sun, in the footsteps of Breeze, where the world and sky meet up, he will ride the ‘silver seas’. Basically, she means to say, king Odysseus is so great that the world and skies are no different and he trades through the silver cloud that becomes the sea of the world. The glittering wave is the sunlight she speaks of. The beautiful and glittering sunlight would completely embrace the path and he should cut the glittering over the sun rays. This is nothing but a hyperbole to indicate how wonderful and great the world thinks the husband to be.
Actually, King Odysseus is a Greek king, who is portrayed in a great manner in the great poem of Homer, Odyssey.His deeds are famous, for his intelligence, brave nature.
Thus, the speaker, Penelope goes on to say,
I shall sit at home and rock;
Rise, to heed a neighbor’s knock;
Brew my tea, and snip my thread;
Bleach the linen for my bed.
They will call him brave.”
While the husband is away, the wife sits at home, and move about. She opens the door to a neighbor’s knock, make her tea. She would clip her thread, she would bleach the linen bedsheet, she would do all household chores.
In spite of her tremendous effort, unfaltering faithfulness, duty, and ambition, she is not spoken of. As a woman, even the wife does a lot of work, even the wife is into the best of work. She gives all her input in doing the household chore.
However, it is sad to see that the woman is not magnified as her husband. Rather, she is completely forgotten. Everybody calls the husband brave. But, it is to be noted that via doing all these things managing the home alone, she protrudes the quality of bravery.

Critical Analysis of Penelope:

The poem is a metaphorical one that points to the character of Penelope. She was the wife of Odysseus, the Greek king, whose deeds are noble and is spoken of in Homer’s Odessy. However, the woman is not any less brave. She is an epitome of fidelity. While King Odysseus was away, her suitors persuaded her for marriage. However, she kept them away by pretending to be weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus’s elderly father Laertes and claiming that she will choose a suitor when she has finished. Every night for three years, she undoes part of the shroud, until Melantho, one of twelve unfaithful serving women, discovers her chicanery and reveals it to the suitors.
Thus the poem speaks of the pain of the woman and the hypocrisy of the society that only the husband is personified. The wonderful deeds of a woman, the wife is neglected. Thus she says that only King Odesses is considered brave.

Central Theme of Penelope:

The central theme of the poem deals with the pathos of a woman, the wife Penelope that her deeds are neglected. It is seen that from the earlier era, women are subjugated. Even now, we see that the deeds of men are magnified where as women are dominated over.
The theme deals with the pain that a woman faces on the subjugation of her deeds. She does all the household work while her husband is away, remains faithful by keeping her suitors away, brews her coffee, threads and performs all her duties.
Yet, the society keeps her away and praises only her husband. This is the grievance that she portrays.

The Tone of Penelope:

The tone is one of anger and sarcasm. First, the woman praises her husband for all her deeds. Indeed, King Odesses was a person who won over the world with his wit, intelligence, bravery. However, the wife Penelope has also remained faithful and loyal to her husband. She did the tedious work of weaving a shroud and keeping her suitors away.
Yet, she is not praised. This has brought a sense of unhappiness and thus, she repents that the world calls her husband brave.


It is best to say that the poem is a portrayal of the subjugation and domination over the deeds of a woman. Thus, the poem is an epitome or example of such deeds and thus portrays the pathos of a woman in a sarcastically applied manner.
Contributor: Bidisha Das

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