Themes in Bernice Bobs Her Hair

Themes Examples in Bernice Bobs Her Hair:

II 1

"People over forty can seldom be permanently convinced of anything. At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide...."   (II)

One of Fitzgerald’s main themes is the gap between young and old in this society. The youths believe the practices of their parents are outdated and backwards while the older generation believes their children’s culture to be frivolous and nonsensical. Marjorie views her mother as stubborn and unable to learn while she sees herself as more knowledgeable and open-minded.

"ever so slightly..."   (III)

Notice that Marjorie’s critiques of Bernice’s behavior are not glaring errors but slight changes in manners. The narrator might be mocking Marjorie and the culture she stands for: what seems like revolutionary ideas and behaviors to Marjorie and her friends are in reality only “ever so slightly” different.

"She had not talked about the weather or Eau Claire or automobiles or her school, but had confined her conversation to me, you, and us...."   (IV)

Beatrice’s conversation is seen as charming because it remains present. It focuses on the participants and current moment rather than referencing outside or objective things. Bernice discovers that the trick to appealing to this society is to engage in it fully.

"I had to repeat myself—with different men of course. I hope they won't compare notes." "Men don't," said Marjorie, yawning, "and it wouldn't matter if they did—they'd think you were even trickier...."   (IV)

Marjorie’s statement suggests that social interactions between men and women were based in verbal games. The polish of one’s manners or conversation skills would be “even better” if it were discovered to be false because it would demonstrate that the woman was clever.

"He could not know this had been rehearsed. He replied that he didn't know much about bobbed hair. But Bernice was there to tell him...."   (IV)

Bernice follows Marjorie’s instructions about what to say and do in order to become popular with the boys in Marjorie’s social circle. The idea of rehearsing before she speaks to people suggests that this society is highly performative.

""Scalp the selfish thing!"..."   (VI)

The verb “scalp” means to cut or tear the scalp and hair off of a person’s head. It is generally associated with victory or done when someone claims victory in battle over an enemy. Bernice’s final statement about Marjorie shows that she has won in this battle against Marjorie and rejected the society for which Marjorie stands.

"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 quite a new look for Bernice—and it carried consequences...."   (VI)

While the narrator suggests that beauty is the only thing that can grant social power to women—especially in Marjorie’s understanding of the world—the “set look” that Bernice has in the chair becomes her means to power. A “new look” can be a physical style that one adopts or it can refer to the “look” in Bernice’s eyes. In this way, Bernice’s mental resolve usurps her physical appearance and gives her access to power and self possession.

"that her chance at beauty had been sacrificed to the jealous whim of a selfish girl. ..."   (VI)

Notice that Bernice focuses on beauty as the opportunity that she has lost rather than status, connections, or identity. Beauty is singled out as the mechanism through which women obtain social power in this period. Marjorie destroyed Bernice’s chances by causing her to cut her hair.

" "in her paper on 'The Foibles of the Younger Generation' that she read at the last meeting of the Thursday Club she devoted fifteen minutes to bobbed hair. It's her pet abomination. And the dance is for you and Marjorie!" ..."   (VI)

Mrs. Harvey’s reaction to Bernice’s haircut once again shows the disconnect between the younger and older generations. The older generations see the haircut as an unseemly sign of a young girl’s lack of propriety. Notice the language surrounding this admonishment. Mrs. Harvey is clearly part of high society clubs that pass judgement on social trends of the time. These clubs, papers, and opinions are all indicative of a passe older generation.