Song of the Shirt, 1941


Parker, Dorothy


Short Story


Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), founder of the Algonquin Table (an influential group of New York City writers, critics, and actors that met for lunch every day at the Algonquin Hotel) and sometime editor for both Vogue and Vanity Fair, was best known for her stinging wit in her poems and stories. The main character in this tale of service, Mrs. Martindale, volunteers at an office of the war-relief organization in which "they did a particularly difficult and tedious form of sewing." Mrs. Martindale gives of herself to an exceptional degree, but Parker raises complex questions about how and why she chooses to serve.

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The Perfect Gift, ed. Amy Kass (Indiana University Press, 2002).




Citizenship and DemocracyCrisis and ConflictImpact and OutcomesMotives and ValuesServing and Volunteering

Big Questions

What are our responsibilities as citizens? Who or what are we responsible for?What does it mean to be American?What makes a "good" citizen?How should we respond to crisis?How do we know the impact of our actions?What impact matters most?What is the impact of our actions - on ourselves and others?Do one’s motives for serving or giving matter? How?What motivates us to act in the world?Is my service effective? How do I know?When we volunteer for an organization, what obligations do we take on?Why do we serve?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why is Mrs. Martindale admired by her community? Why do they come to her first for matters of philanthropy or service?
  2. Why does Mrs. Martindale resist wearing a uniform of her own?
  3. What motivates Mrs. Martindale’s service? Why does she feel obligated to work every afternoon at headquarters?
  4. Why does Mrs. Martindale take the extra work over the summer? Why is she unable to think of a job for Mrs. Christie?
  5. How can we best serve our country in a time of crisis?
  6. How are our motives for service relevant or irrelevant to the work that gets performed?
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