Dorothy Parker on Drinking, Desire, and Lost Nights
Drinking a little too much alcohol at one time has been known to induce amnesia in those who imbibe. Those of us who have been known to drink a bit too much on occasion can attest to this. Those of you who haven’t made this mistake please trust those of us who have. If you don’t want to trust us then I suggest reading “You Were Perfectly Fine” by Dorothy Parker. This short story presents the danger of a little too much drink (without the soapbox condescension).
Parker’s story is primarily a dialogue between Peter, a “pale young man” and an unnamed “clear-eyed girl” the morning after a night of drinkng with friends. She helps him piece together the events of the previous evening and assures him that his drunken behavior was not that bad and that, in fact, he was “perfectly fine” throughout most of the evening. The key event of the stoy worth noting is when she tells the man that he revealed romantic feelings for her, and that she has similar feelings for him. The man’s reaction to this turn (as shown in the last sentence) can be viewed as a warning to monitor both the amount of alcohol you drink and what you say when drinking.
If you take the dialogue between the woman and Peter at face value it is a humorous tale of a little too much alcohol being the root cause of some foolish actions and brash statements. But there are a few points that are worth a closer analysis. These points don’t necessarily change the outcome of the story, but they do provide a different view concerning the motivation of the female character. Peter relies on this female companion to remind him of the events and his actions of the previous night. An argument can be made that the female is making light of Peter’s actions because she has feelings for him and doesn’t want Peter to feel bad. Another interpretation could argue that she is deftly manipulating Peter. The story begins at about four in the afternoon when Peter finally gets out of bed with quite a hangover. The female character doesn’t seem to be suffering any ill effects of the previous evening. She obviously has not had as much to drink as Peter (or maybe holds her drink better), and is better prepared to discuss the previous night than Peter. Another point worth considereing concerns the title of the story. Throughout the course of their conversation she tells Peter, “You were perfectly fine,” on two occasions along with two more variations of this statement. Minimizing Peter’s actions can be viewed as something other than making apologies for a romantic interest. These statements can be seen as a means to convince Peter that his actions were acceptable, and by extension so is his supposed admission of feelings for the female character. The final point for analysis is Peter’s romantic declaration. According to the female Peter’s actions throughout the night had a collection of witnesses, yet their conversation was private. If Peter has a history of blacking out while drinking, which seems to be the case, the female could easily manipulate Peter into thinking he said something he did not. The fact that she suggests they keep their romantic exchange a secret may not be proof of manipulation but does give one a reason to question her motivation.
If alcohol has ever put you in a situation were you felt like a third person character in your first person life then “You Were perfectly Fine” will feel familiar. If alcohol hasn’t struck you with a bit of amnesia this is an interesting a study of character motivation. Parker’s ability to create characters who conceal more than they reveal is just one of many reasons why her work should be on your shelf.