Bernice Bobs Her Hair by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In Bernice Bobs Her Hair by F. Scott Fitzgerald we have the theme of identity, acceptance, popularity, betrayal, jealousy and rejection. Taken from his The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Fitzgerald may be exploring the theme of popularity. There is a sense that Bernice longs to be accepted (socially) by Marjorie’s friends and wishes to have the same popularity that she has when she is at home in Eau Claire. How important popularity is to Bernice is evident by her willingness to change (or at least attempt to change) her personality in order to fit in with Marjorie’s friends. The fact that Bernice follows Marjorie’s advice, without questioning anything (though she does make minor attempts at the start), not only further suggests how important popularity is to Bernice but it may also suggest that Bernice is unsure of who she is, which would play on the theme of identity. Unlike Marjorie, who comes across as being a little cold (particularly to Warren and Bernice) and who seems to be more comfortable with who she is (or at least accepting of who she is), Bernice appears to be out of her depth and reliant on Marjorie while she is staying with Marjorie and Mrs Harvey.
Fitzgerald also appears to be exploring the theme of rejection. At the party (at the beginning of the story), it is left to Otis to dance with Bernice, none of the other boys have taken any interest in Bernice and even Otis is tired of dancing with her, jokingly telling Warren that he has the piece of wood (two by four) so that he can knock Bernice out. Otis’ reaction to Bernice may be important as it is possible that Fitzgerald, through Otis’ character and the fact that the other boys don’t want to dance with Bernice, is highlighting the theme of rejection. Bernice isn’t socially accepted by any of the boys at the party and those (including Warren and Otis) that do dance with her are doing so because they have been asked by the more popular (and socially accepted) Marjorie.
The idea of rejection is a little more noticeable in the barber shop, after Bernice has gotten her hair cut. When Marjorie asks Warren to drive her to the cleaners, he agrees to do so, leaving Bernice behind. Despite having arrived at the barbers with Bernice, after she has gotten her hair bobbed, Warren abandons or rejects Bernice favouring Marjorie instead. By rejecting Bernice, it is also possible that Fitzgerald is highlighting the importance of social acceptance and popularity to Warren. Just as Bernice had attempted to become popular and accepted by Marjorie’s friends, likewise Warren appears to realise that in order to maintain any form of social acceptance and popularity with Marjorie’s (and his) friends he has to reject Bernice. If anything social acceptance and popularity is more important to Warren than how Bernice may feel. The fact that Mrs Harvey tells Bernice that Mrs Deyo doesn’t like girls who bob their hair may also be important as there is a sense that Mrs Harvey is not only concerned that Bernice will not be accepted (socially) by Mrs Deyo but it is also possible that Mrs Harvey fears that Mrs Deyo’s rejection of Bernice will also reflect on her too. There is a possibility that Mrs Harvey fears that she herself will be rejected (by Mrs Deyo) with it being assumed that she agreed with or allowed Bernice to bob her hair.
There is also a sense that Marjorie is betraying Bernice. Having previously been her mentor (in order for Bernice to gain popularity), Marjorie tricks Bernice into bobbing her hair knowing that it will only result in Bernice being ostracised by the other characters in the story (such is the social stigma associated with a girl bobbing her hair). This betrayal appears to stem from the fact that Warren has begun to show an interest in Bernice. Where previously Warren had focused his attention (unsuccessfully) on Marjorie, he now when Bernice becomes popular, focuses on Bernice. If anything this causes Marjorie to become jealous of Warren and Bernice’s relationship. No longer is she (Marjorie) the focus of Warren’s attention and as such she wants to make sure that Bernice will lose the popularity that she (Marjorie) helped create. By having Marjorie betray Bernice it is also possible that Fitzgerald is highlighting the social competition that existed at the time the story was written (and possibly still today) between young girls, particularly when vying for the attention of a boy.
The ending of the story is also interesting. The fact that Bernice throws Marjorie’s braids onto Warren’s porch suggests that Bernice is rejecting Warren, just as he has rejected her. Not only is she aware that she has been tricked by Marjorie into bobbing her hair but Bernice also seems to realise that Warren is more interested in popularity (and social acceptance) than he is in her. For the first time in the story the reader senses that Bernice is being true to herself (and to her identity). No longer does she appear to be chasing popularity or social acceptance with Marjorie, Marjorie’s friends or Warren. Rather by returning to Eau Claire she is returning to a world where she is already accepted by others and does not need to change who she is.