Bernice Bobs Her Hair
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Bernice visits her cousin, Marjorie, for the summer.
The set-up to this story is simple – Marjorie is a ten, but her cousin Bernice is a zero. We see evidence of this at the country club dance, where Marjorie basically has to flirtatiously blackmail people into dancing with the boring Bernice. The difference between the two cousins couldn't be more obvious. We get the feeling that Marjorie just can't wait to get her cousin off her back and enjoy the rest of her summer.
Bernice overhears a conversation (about herself) between Marjorie and Mrs. Harvey; Bernice and Marjorie quarrel.
The conflict here is quite a literal one – Bernice, who overhears her cousin trash-talking her, confronts Marjorie, and the two of them get into a (verbal) fight. Marjorie's sharp-tongued attacks on her rather feeble cousin are effective, and we see what the two of them are really made of – at this stage, at least. The conflict between cousins sets us up to view Marjorie as the strong character and Bernice as the weak, submissive one. This kind of throws us for a little loop when the "Complication" comes along…
Motivated by Marjorie's criticism, Bernice decides to try to learn how to be popular.
Bernice's change of heart certainly throws a big fat wrench into the works here. While we were ready to accept Bernice's anticipated return home to Eau Claire, she throws us a curveball and decides to stay. We're not sure what's going to happen as these two antagonistic cousins attempt to work together to reinvent Bernice's image, and, like Bernice, we feel some trepidation about it.
Under Marjorie's tutelage, Bernice becomes a social success – so much so that Warren transfers his affections to her. Marjorie confronts Bernice about Warren.
Things are going well, but there's trouble in paradise. As soon as Bernice threatens her status as queen bee, Marjorie turns against her cousin. This flip from mentor to antagonist is a distinct landmark in the story – we know that things will never be the same between Bernice and Marjorie.
Marjorie exposes Bernice's "line" about bobbing her hair at a party.
This scene, which takes place at an afternoon bridge party, is one of the greatest moments of discomfort in the story. Marjorie, jealous of Bernice's success, reveals the fact that Bernice doesn't actually intend to cut her hair. The resultant challenging curiosity that she faces from all of her new friends throws her into a position of anxiety and uncertainty.
Bernice bobs her hair.
Finally, here it is – the moment we've all been waiting for since the title. Bernice does in fact go to the Sevier Barber Shop and bob her hair, and the story shows us at last what we've been alternately hoping for and dreading all along. The haircut is a disaster, and everything Bernice has worked for is immediately destroyed with the snip of a pair of shears. All of a sudden, Bernice is alone – her new "friends" abandon her (including Warren), and there's no way she can return to her old, sedate life.
Bernice takes revenge on Marjorie by chopping off her hair.
This incredibly satisfying conclusion settles the score: Marjorie gets her comeuppance for being a manipulative, jealous, and cold-hearted villain. The conclusion is both resolution and irresolution, for while we get the undeniable thrill of seeing Bernice get her revenge, we're also not sure about her own future. That's part of what makes this story so enjoyable, though – the uncertainty is exciting and strange, and we hope that Bernice goes out with her new-found determination and will and becomes strong woman she has the potential to be.