When Marjorie and Bernice reached home at half after midnight they said good night at the top of the stairs. Though cousins, they were not intimates. As a matter of fact Marjorie had no female intimates—she considered girls stupid. Bernice on the contrary all through this parent-arranged visit had rather longed to exchange those confidences flavored with giggles and tears that she considered an indispensable factor in all feminine intercourse. But in this respect she found Marjorie rather cold; felt somehow the same difficulty in talking to her that she had in talking to men. Marjorie never giggled, was never frightened, seldom embarrassed, and in fact had very few of the qualities which Bernice considered appropriately and blessedly feminine.

As Bernice busied herself with tooth-brush and paste this night she wondered for the hundredth time why she never had any attention when she was away from home. That her family were the wealthiest in Eau Claire; that her mother entertained tremendously, gave little dinners for her daughter before all dances and bought her a car of her own to drive round in, never occurred to her as factors in her home-town social success. Like most girls she had been brought up on the warm milk prepared by Annie Fellows Johnston and on novels in which the female was beloved because of certain mysterious womanly qualities, always mentioned but never displayed.

Bernice felt a vague pain that she was not at present engaged in being popular. She did not know that had it not been for Marjorie's campaigning she would have danced the entire evening with one man; but she knew that even in Eau Claire other girls with less position and less pulchritude were given a much bigger rush. She attributed this to something subtly unscrupulous in those girls. It had never worried her, and if it had her mother would have assured her that the other girls cheapened themselves and that men really respected girls like Bernice.

She turned out the light in her bathroom, and on an impulse decided to go in and chat for a moment with her aunt Josephine, whose light was still on. Her soft slippers bore her noiselessly down the carpeted hall, but hearing voices inside she stopped near the partly opened door. Then she caught her own name, and without any definite intention of eavesdropping lingered—and the thread of the conversation going on inside pierced her consciousness sharply as if it had been drawn through with a needle.

"She's absolutely hopeless!" It was Marjorie's voice. "Oh, I know what you're going to say! So many people have told you how pretty and sweet she is, and how she can cook! What of it? She has a bum time. Men don't like her."

"What's a little cheap popularity?"

Mrs. Harvey sounded annoyed.

"It's everything when you're eighteen," said Marjorie emphatically. "I've done my best. I've been polite and I've made men dance with her, but they just won't stand being bored. When I think of that gorgeous coloring wasted on such a ninny, and think what Martha Carey could do with it—oh!"

"There's no courtesy these days."

Mrs. Harvey's voice implied that modern situations were too much for her. When she was a girl all young ladies who belonged to nice families had glorious times.

"Well," said Marjorie, "no girl can permanently bolster up a lame-duck visitor, because these days it's every girl for herself. I've even tried to drop hints about clothes and things, and she's been furious—given me the funniest looks. She's sensitive enough to know she's not getting away with much, but I'll bet she consoles herself by thinking that she's very virtuous and that I'm too gay and fickle and will come to a bad end. All unpopular girls think that way. Sour grapes! Sarah Hopkins refers to Genevieve and Roberta and me as gardenia girls! I'll bet she'd give ten years of her life and her European education to be a gardenia girl and have three or four men in love with her and be cut in on every few feet at dances."

"It seems to me," interrupted Mrs. Harvey rather wearily, "that you ought to be able to do something for Bernice. I know she's not very vivacious."

Marjorie groaned.

"Vivacious! Good grief! I've never heard her say anything to a boy except that it's hot or the floor's crowded or that she's going to school in New York next year. Sometimes she asks them what kind of car they have and tells them the kind she has. Thrilling!"

There was a short silence and then Mrs. Harvey took up her refrain:

"All I know is that other girls not half so sweet and attractive get partners. Martha Carey, for instance, is stout and loud, and her mother is distinctly common. Roberta Dillon is so thin this year that she looks as though Arizona were the place for her. She's dancing herself to death."

"But, mother," objected Marjorie impatiently, "Martha is cheerful and awfully witty and an awfully slick girl, and Roberta's a marvellous dancer. She's been popular for ages!"

Mrs. Harvey yawned.

"I think it's that crazy Indian blood in Bernice," continued Marjorie. "Maybe she's a reversion to type. Indian women all just sat round and never said anything."

"Go to bed, you silly child," laughed Mrs. Harvey. "I wouldn't have told you that if I'd thought you were going to remember it. And I think most of your ideas are perfectly idiotic," she finished sleepily.

There was another silence, while Marjorie considered whether or not convincing her mother was worth the trouble. 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.

Having decided this, Marjorie said good night. When she came out into the hall it was quite empty.


  1. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. By “Indian,” Marjorie means Native American. In 1924, the U.S. government passed the Indian Citizenship Act granting all Native Americans U.S. citizenship. Despite this movement in the government, little was done to curb racism towards Native American populations or relieve economic disparities. Mainstream U.S. culture still portrayed native peoples as savage, violent, and unreasonable. Marjorie’s comments about Beatrice’s “crazy Indian blood” reveal these deeply entrenched racist sentiments.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. In this context, the adjective “slick”—a slang term—means smooth in manners or suave. Marjorie suggests that Martha is popular because she uses her wit and personality. This suggests that women were judged for more than their beauty in this time period. It also reveals that Marjorie partakes in the contemporary social scene because she uses popular jargon from the time.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. A gardenia is an extremely beautiful flower that has a short life expectancy—it fades quickly once it has bloomed. A “gardenia girl” was a slang term in the 1920s for fashionable women who rejected traditional gender expectations and morality. Gardenia girls lived “fast and loose” in the party scene of the flapper era.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The adjective “sensitive” in this context means perceptive of another’s feelings. In this statement, Marjorie defends her cruel response to her cousin and justifies her aversion to having Beatrice stay longer by blaming Beatrice. In claiming that Beatrice “must know” why she is unliked, Marjorie relieves herself from blame.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The North American expression "lame-duck" indicates that someone is an ineffectual or unsuccessful person. In this context, Marjorie claims that Bernice is hopeless because she has no social skills.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff