Bernice Bobs Her Hair (F. Scott Fitzgerald) Essay, Research Paper
“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald teaches a very important lesson about superficial popularity, and the cruel pressures which demand that individuals conform to the standards of a social set. It was interesting to watch the development of the main character, a quiet, passive person who longed for popularity, then found it, then lost it, and finally became strong and independent. The story is about an eighteen-year old girl named Bernice who is visiting her snobbish cousin, Marjorie. At first, Bernice is considered boring and dull by Marjorie and her friends, because she can’t make witty conversation and doesn’t dress fashionably. Bernice finally agrees to let Marjorie teach her how to be popular. According to Marjorie’s superficial formula for popularity, conversation must be carefully planned and rehearsed in order to shock and amuse the audience. For conversational purposes, Marjorie suggests that Bernice use the topic of bobbing her hair. In 1920, when the story was written, short hair was a daring new fashion, adopted by only the most adventurous women, and it had the power to shock the average person. Jealous of Bernice’s new popularity, Marjorie sets a trap for Bernice by calling her bluff on the hair bob. Although the new hair style was immensely unflattering to Bernice, and her popularity evaporated immediately, the bob unleashed a strong, independent side of her character . Bernice decided to leave her cousin’s house and go home, but before she left, she snipped off Marjorie’s long blonde braids.
The two most important characters in this story are Bernice and Marjorie. The theme of superficial popularity and social pressure is conveyed through the contrast and development of the two characters, and the changes in their relationship. Bernice was quiet, socially awkward, and “pretty, with dark hair and high color, but she was no fun on a party.” Her vivacious and popular cousin, Marjorie, “besides having a fairylike face and a dazzling, bewildering tongue was already justly celebrated for having turned five cart-wheels in succession during the past pump-and-slipper dance at New Haven.” Marjorie had a wide circle of friends, which included a large number of admiring men. On the other hand, Bernice’s limited social success was based on the fact that her family was the richest in her home town, and her mother constantly threw parties for her and had bought her a car. She couldn’t understand why Marjorie and her friends didn’t like her.
Bernice valued friendship, but Marjorie “had no female intimates – she considered girls stupid.” Bernice was the kind of conservative, old-fashioned “womanly woman” that Marjorie despised. Marjorie’s relationships were superficial. She did not love Warren because “when she was away from him she forgot him and had affairs with other boys.” Marjorie amused herself by writing “non-committal, marvelously elusive letters” to her many boyfriends.
Both characters underwent a change after Marjorie began to coach Bernice in the art of being popular. Bernice learned all the superficial tricks of attracting interest and capturing attention. Together, they prepared and perfected conversations which were calculated to amuse, flatter, and shock Bernice’s audience. The pretended intention to bob her hair was the most shocking and successful of all. Bernice became more socially confident. “With the feeling that people really enjoyed looking at her and listening to her came the foundation of self-confidence.” The project began to turn sour for Marjorie after Warren McIntyre, “Marjorie’s most reliable beau … made an amazing face-about and was giving an indisputable rush” to Bernice. Jealousy brought out the vicious side of Marjorie, who trapped Bernice into bobbing her hair by calling her bluff.
The haircut was a disaster for Bernice, and she realized the “outrageous trap that had been set for her.” “Something snapped within Bernice.” The haircut had severed her chance at popularity, but it allowed her to see through the shallowness and selfishness of her cousin. No longer caring about what anyone would think of her, she was able to take action and get revenge. It might have been “that crazy Indian blood in Bernice” that caused her to laugh, “Scalp the selfish thing!” when she tossed Marjorie’s bobbed braids onto Warren’s front porch.
The minor character of Warren McIntyre is important to the plot. Marjorie’s superficial treatment of people was shown in her relationship with Warren, who she neglected when she “basked in the knowledge that no other girl in town interested him.” Warren’s admiration of Bernice was “the most significant symbol of her success,” and it triggered Marjorie’s vengeance. Warren’s cold reaction to Bernice’s bobbed hair represented Bernice’s lost popularity.
The story takes place in the superficial world of the country club set. Fitzgerald’s description of the Saturday night dance creates the mood at the beginning of the story. “The couples exchange artificial, effortless smiles,” “filling the lantern-hung night with vague words and hazy laughter.” The bright country club windows represents the social scene and contrasts with the “very black and wavy ocean” of onlookers which represents social outsiders. This supports the theme of the story, which is about social acceptance and superficial popularity.
The story is told from the third person omniscient point of view, which works well because it allows the reader to see inside the minds of the characters. This works much better than if the author had used the first person point of view. For instance, Bernice could not have told the story effectively because at first she didn’t understand why she wasn’t popular, and until the very end, she didn’t understand her cousin, Marjorie.
The author effectively uses literary devices throughout the story. The title, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” is first interpreted as Bernice bobbing her own hair, but ironically turns out to also mean Bernice bobbing Marjorie’s hair. It was also ironic that Bernice, who had wanted so badly to be socially accepted, was not afraid at the end of the story to act in a way that no one would approve of.
The author uses hyperbole and metaphors when describing Bernice’s feelings as she walked into the barber shop. “Bernice had all the sensations of Marie Antoinette bound for the guillotine in a tumbrel.” The Sevier Barbershop” was a guillotine indeed, and the hangman was the first barber.” The contrast between Marjorie’s delicate appearance and her vicious nature was described in similes. Marjorie, braiding her hair, “looked like a delicate painting of some Saxon princess.” Her braids “moving under the supple fingers like restive snakes” suggest her treachery. Fitzgerald also uses foreshadowing when Marjorie called Bernice’s bluff about wanting to leave. Later Marjorie called her bluff about bobbing her hair. As Bernice’s hair was being cut, “there was a curious narrowing of her eyes” that foreshadowed her expression when she got the idea to bob Marjorie’s hair. “Suddenly she drew in her breath sharply and an expression flashed into her eyes that a practiced character reader might have connected vaguely with the set look she had worn in the barber’s chair – somehow a development of it. It was a new look for Bernice – and it carried consequences.”
“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” is an example of a good short story, because the author effectively uses plot, character, setting, point of view, and literary devices to support the theme. I enjoyed this story more than any of the others I have read, because the theme about superficial popularity and social acceptance is very pertinent. I can see many qualities of the characters in people that I know.