By: F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”. Background Information. Fitzgerald’s works of fiction depict the lives of young, hip people like him.
“Bernice Bobs Her Hair”
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Fitzgerald’s works of fiction depict the lives of young, hip people like him.
Fitzgerald's stories chronicled a new generation of American youth whose extremes astounded their elders. His characters embodied the modern socialite (social elite).
Written during the "Jazz Age" (also known as the “Roaring Twenties”) of the 1920s during the time of the flappers.
The collection that features "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" is actually titled Flappers and Philosophers (1920), a label that immediately announces its subject matter.
Fitzgerald aimed to depict the changing face of youth in his time
women are envisioned as forward-thinking, revolutionary "flappers" (slang for the kind of new, fast-talking, Charleston-dancing, jazz-listening, leg-baring gal that emerged at this time)
while the men, who either narrowly missed or survived the horrors of WWI, are labeled "philosophers."
Motto of the time period: life might be short, so you might as well make it as sweet as possible.
Part I Vocabulary
Expanse: a very large area of water, sky, land
Babel: the confusing sound of many voices talking together
Lorgnettes: a pair of eyeglasses with a handle
Bombard: to do something too often or too much, for example criticizing or questioning someone, or giving too much information
Dowager: a woman from a high social class who has land or a title from her dead husband
Part I Vocabulary
Postulate: something believed to be true
Facetious: saying things that are intended to be clever and funny but are really silly and annoying; treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor
Discourse: to make a long formal speech about something, or to discuss something seriously
Voluble: Talking a lot or quickly
Settee: a long comfortable seat with a back and usually with arms, for more than one person to sit on
Part I Notes
a warm Saturday night at the country club (on the outside)
caddies, chauffeurs, and other spectators who aren't invited in surrounding the club, where a dance is taking place.
Inside: onlookers - older generation of middle-aged people look on from the balcony, trying to make sure the young folks don't get up to too much trouble.
Then, scene unfolds- the dance floor, full of young, gorgeous, generally fabulous people.
Part I Notes
A "stag" (partner-less guys): Warren McIntyre, a popular Yale undergrad.
Other members of this social circle: Jim Strain and Ethel Demorest, who have been secretly engaged for years
Genevieve Ormonde and Roberta Dillon: towns beautiful girls, who are practically famous with the young men of their generation…they're party girls that visit their male friends at college back East for big football games and dances.
Last : Marjorie Harvey, Warren's main girl.
Grew up across the street from each other
Warren's been in love with Marjorie for ages.
However, she's not entirely sure about him – she's fond of Warren, but can't help but hang around with other guys when he's away.
Part I Notes
Unfortunately for Warren, the Marjorie situation is even worse this summer
She's got a dull cousin, Bernice, visiting her all August, and Warren hasn't been able to get close to her.
Cousin Bernice is a total opposite of Marjorie
Pretty, but not the life of the party.
Warren has to dance with Bernice at every party, since Marjorie asks him to.
This weekend is no different:
Marjorie comes up asks Warren to rescue Bernice from Otis Ormonde, since the two have been dancing together for an hour.
Part I Notes
Otis is the one that needs rescuing
Been trapped with Bernice for the last several dances because nobody will cut in on her, and he can't leave her without a partner.
Otis jokes he'll even resort to knocking Bernice out to avoid dancing with her again.
Warren relieves Otis of his dancing duties, and takes on the burden of boring Bernice.
Rules that dominate this social universe:
A girl's popularity can be determined by how often she's cut in on at a dance
If a guy has to dance with a girl more than once in a row, it shows that she doesn't rate too highly in the social hierarchy.
Bernice is her usual dull self, and has nothing to talk about but the weather.
Warren, bored, tries idly to flirt with her…but it fails.
Bernice doesn't know how to respond, and when she tries to make conversation by gossiping about Jim Strain and Ethel Demorest, Warren (who's friends with Jim and Ethel) is totally not into her.
Part I Exit Slip
So far, what are some similarities and differences between the social world in the story and your social world?
Part II Vocabulary
Indispensable: when something is so important or useful that it is impossible to manage without them
Pulchritude: physical beauty
Unscrupulous: behaving in an unfair or dishonest way
Bolster: to improve; to make someone feel better
Part II Notes
After the dance, Marjorie and Bernice go home together.
Don’t have much to say to each other
Even though they're cousins, they are definitely not friends.
No real female friends
Thinks other girls are stupid
Bernice on the other hand:
Was hoping that they would be best friends
Disappointed in her cousin as a result
As Bernice brushes her teeth and gets ready for bed, she wonders about the problem of her lack of popularity away from home.
In Eau Claire, she's a big success BUT it may be because her family is incredibly wealthy and important.
Doesn't understand why she's not popular at the dances here
Doesn't realize that the only reason she has dance partners is that Marjorie arranges them
Part II Notes
Bernice does see that other girls who are less socially significant and pretty than she is sometimes have more luck with the guys, even back in Eau Claire;
She thinks this is because of their innate cheapness
Could it really be her snobby attitude?
On her way to bed, Bernice overhears her Aunt Josephine, Marjorie's mom, and Marjorie talking about her.
Marjorie is complaining how she can't make her cousin popular – she's too boring.
From a different generation, so she doesn't understand what Marjorie is so upset about.
To her, any girl who's and pretty should automatically be popular.
Marjorie tries to explain why it's so important in these modern times to be popular.
She half-jokingly says that Bernice's dullness must be a result of her Native American blood, meaning that Indian women weren't very exciting.
Her mother laughs this off – we get the impression that Bernice's "crazy Indian blood“ is a family secret.
“What’s a little cheap popularity?”- Mrs. Harvey
“It’s everything when you’re eighteen.” – Marjorie
Part II Exit Slip
What are your impressions and feelings about Bernice and Marjorie so far? Do you feel bad for Marjorie or Bernice or both? Why? Explain your answer.
Do Now: Key Quote Analysis
“At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.”
In your own words, explain what this quote is saying.
How does this quote apply to Marjorie and her mother?
The next day, Bernice lets out her anger to Marjorie:
Admits that she overheard the conversation last night
Bernice, ineffectively and awkwardly, tries to guilt-trip the guilt-free Marjorie by saying that she should probably just go back home to Eau Claire.
Past criticisms from a few weeks ago all come back to her, including a nasty incident in which Marjorie insulted Bernice's dress sense (a touchy topic for many girls).
Bernice's attempts to make Marjorie feel guilt fails miserably, though, and she is shocked when Marjorie doesn't try to stop her from leaving.
In fact, Marjorie can't wait for her cousin to get out of town.
Sobbing, Bernice flees.
An hour later, she returns, hoping that Marjorie will persuade her into staying.
That does not happen; instead, they face off.
Marjorie unleashes a dizzying display of criticism.
Tells Bernice, any old fashioned ideas of womanhood and elegance are out the window these days
A girl needs to be spunky and witty, as well as rich and pretty, in order to succeed.
Bernice is overwhelmed by these new ideas.
Disappears for a few hours, claiming a headache
Marjorie goes out for the afternoon, and when she returns, a determined Bernice is waiting for her.
Bernice has decided that Marjorie might be right.
She agrees to put herself in her cousin's care for the rest of her visit, promising to do whatever Marjorie tells her to.
Intrigued, Marjorie tells Bernice to write home and say she's staying longer.
The makeover begins immediately.
The manipulation begins.
Marjorie attacks everything from Bernice's eyebrows to her dancing, explaining that while she despises "dainty minds" (60), a woman has to be feminine and enticing on the outside.
Marjorie also lets Bernice in on a big secret – in order to be popular, women have to be kind and considerate even to the lowliest of men.
Marjorie urges Bernice to use the less popular guys she meets as "practice" for the big fish.
A whole new world has opened up for Bernice over the past few minutes.
She attempts to thank Marjorie for this lesson
Marjorie is too distracted wondering if Bernice should bob her hair.
This last bit is too much for poor Bernice. She's overwhelmed.
After some intense training, Bernice is ready for her first public appearance – a dinner and dance at the country club.
Bernice is seated between two bachelors, one eligible, and one not.
G. Reece Stoddard is a young lawyer and man about town.
Charley Paulson, her other neighbor, is kind of a nobody.
However, Bernice remembers Marjorie's advice and takes the plunge with Charley.
Breaks the ice with a crash and asks Charley if he thinks she should bob her hair
This comment does the trick – everyone's suddenly paying attention to Bernice.
A conversation starts about bobbed hair and its questionable morality.
By the end of the evening, Bernice is the new toast of town, and even the picky G. Reece Stoddard is a fan.
Looking around for Marjorie, Warren is intrigued by Bernice's sudden popularity.
Remembers he thought she was pretty before he found out how dull she is
Somewhat mystified by everyone's sudden interest in her
At home that night, Bernice and Marjorie evaluate the night – it was clearly a success.
Bernice is a little worried because she had to repeat some of her snappy lines with different men, but Marjorie tells her not to worry. They plan to make up more material later.
As Bernice gets ready for bed, she is proud of what she's accomplished
Can't help but think that she really did a lot of it, even though Marjorie helped, and is proud. Her last waking thought is about how great Marjorie is, and how nice that boy Warren seems.
Things are marvelous for Bernice:
In the spotlight
Self-confidence has improved drastically
Made a few mistakes in her adventures in society
Accidentally tells a daring joke to DraycottDeyo (very religious man)
It's well known about town that Bernice has gained many significant suitors, from Otis Ormonde to G. Reece Stoddard.
Everyone's favorite thing about Bernice is her line about bobbing her hair.
She jokingly leads everybody on, telling them that she's planning on cutting her hair sometime soon, but totally not intending to follow through.
Even Warren McIntyre has taken interest in Bernice.
Seen at the Harveys' house every day.
Everyone in town knows that he's abandoned Marjorie for her cousin.
Part V Notes
Marjorie laughs all of this off.
Says she's glad that Warren found somebody that likes him in return.
However, just before Bernice is bound to return home to Eau Claire, she has a terribly awkward moment with Marjorie.
As the two get ready for a bridge party one afternoon, Marjorie makes a cruel announcement to her cousin:
According to Marjorie, Bernice is making a total fool out of herself, and Warren doesn't even like her.
At the party, Bernice is flustered.
She didn't know Marjorie was jealous and feels terrible for taking Warren away from her.
Marjorie, however, doesn't just mope around feeling bad for herself – she gets even.
When the topic of Bernice's haircut comes up, she coldly exposes the truth and calls Bernice's bluff.
Everyone else wants to know if it's true – is Bernice's claim that she'll bob her hair really just a line?
Part V Notes
Confronted by her new friends, Marjorie, and Warren, Bernice falters for a moment.
Then, in response to Marjorie's taunts, Bernice announces that she will bob her hair – that very afternoon.
The whole crowd drives down to the barbershop in town
On the way, Bernice feels like she's heading to her own execution.
However, she holds her course; this act, she thinks, will be the final declaration that Bernice deserves the popularity she's newly gained.
At the barbershop, a crowd gathers to see the big event.
Other customers of the barbershop are shocked, as is the barber himself.
She calmly gathers her courage and waits for the chop.
The results are disastrous. Bernice's hair is awful, and the horrible haircut takes away all of her former beauty.
Her friends – now ex-friends – are all quietly dismayed, and Warren is suddenly uninterested.
In a cruel gesture of victory, Marjorie asks Warren to run some errands with her, and leaves with him.
At home that night, Bernice is forced to confront her flabbergasted aunt.
Mrs. Harvey is terribly dismayed
Turns out that DraycottDeyo's mother, who's particularly opposed to bobbed hair, was planning on throwing a party for Bernice and Marjorie, a plan that's now ruined.
At dinner, everyone is uncomfortable.
Bernice tried to fix her hair with a curling iron, but failed miserably.
Bernice has to face her cousin's mocking smile.
Bernice attempts to halfheartedly to entertain some callers.
That night as they're getting ready for bed, Marjorie issues an irritatingly fake apology.
Now that she's won, she's all sweetness and condescending kindness.
As they're talking, Marjorie cruelly shows off her long, beautiful, blond hair, braiding it in front of the mirror.
With a final effort, Bernice says she likes the haircut.
Marjorie, dismissive, tells her not to worry about the whole thing.
When Marjorie leaves, something changes in Bernice.
Leaps up and packs all of her things and gets dressed to leave.
Writes a brief note to her aunt explaining her departure, and plans to leave town on a one o'clock train.
Steadies herself, and the same look of determination that she had in the barbershop appears on her face
Silently, Bernice picks up something from her dresser, and creeps into Marjorie's room.
There, she calmly cuts off one, then the other of Marjorie's long braids with a pair of shears.
Bernice flees the crime scene, Marjorie's pigtails in hand.
Feels strangely exhilarated,
In front of Warren's house, she sets down her luggage for a minute, and hurls Marjorie's two braids onto his porch, and laughs wildly. Satisfied, she picks her baggage up and runs off.
1. Women and Femininity
In "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," we are seeing a new issue come about: what do women expect from women? Instead of: what do men expect from women?
This story asks you to evaluate and challenge traditional expectations of what it means to be a woman and be feminine in comparison to a new kind of woman that exploded into life in the post-Victorian era (after 1901).
Fitzgerald asks you to question whether or not we should create clear-cut models for being feminine and for what women should be like.
A time for experimentation, challenging authority, and foolishness
"Bernice Bobs Her Hair," like many of Fitzgerald's stories and novels, asks what it means to be young, specifically, what it means to be young in a wildly changing social climate.
The young people in the story challenge the belief systems they grew up with, and, at times, they shock their parents and other elders.
The story asks you to ponder youth and its value, while also looking rather fondly back at the teenage years as a time of rash decisions and heightened emotions.
We all know what it feels like to try and figure out who we really are.
It's easy to be swayed by fashion – don't we all want to have the right pair of jeans or the right sneakers, even if we don't exactly like them?
It's tough to develop – and maintain – one's own sense of individual identity, when the whole world seems to want to tell you how to act, dress, think, and speak.
Even though this story takes place in the now-distant 1920s, we can sympathize with them; they're all dominated by social expectations, pressures, and judgments of the trend-heavy world around them.
Girls can be competitive.
When it comes to guys, girls can be particularly competitive.
In this story, the two main characters unintentionally become fierce competitors in the brutal game of popularity.
When it becomes clear that an eligible bachelor is the prize, they pull out all stops.
Marjorie, the antagonist, flips instantly from mentor to traitor.
The end of this story hinges upon a vicious act of betrayal, and in its aftermath, nothing can possibly be the same again.
You see just how quickly things can go from ideal to awful – and how competition and jealousy can instantly change the nature of a relationship.
The girl who seems to have it all, realizes that she has it all BUT still can't help but be jealous.
The story shows that jealousy is simply a fact of life, especially when the person in question is so focused on popularity and who's used to getting everything she wants.
Fitzgerald reminds you of the bitter truth – even when we don't realize it, we're often jealous of someone.
Jealousy sneaks up on us, and sometimes we don't even recognize it until its too late.