"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 her 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." (31)
Marjorie lays all her cards out here, with her claim that "these days it's every girl for herself." This establishes the idea that all the girls in this social circle are in competition with each other, even though they're supposedly friends; all of the "gardenia girls" are really competing to be at the head of the popular crowd.
"So I've decided," she continued, her voice rising slightly, "that early next week I'm going down to the Sevier Hotel barber-shop, sit in the first chair, and get my hair bobbed." She faltered, noticing that the people near her had paused in their conversation and were listening; but after a confused second Marjorie's coaching told, and she finished her paragraph to the vicinity at large. "Of course I'm charging admission, but if you'll all come down and encourage me I'll issue passes for the inside seats."
There was a ripple of appreciative laughter, and under cover of it G. Reece Stoddard leaned over quickly and said close to her ear: "I'll take a box right now."
She met his eyes and smiled as if he had said something surpassingly brilliant.
"Do you believe in bobbed hair?" asked G. Reece in the same undertone.
"I think it's unmoral," affirmed Bernice gravely. "But, of course, you've either got to amuse people or feed 'em or shock 'em." Marjorie had culled this from Oscar Wilde. It was greeted with a ripple of laughter from the men and a series of quick, intent looks from the girls. And then as though she had said nothing of wit or moment Bernice turned again to Charley and spoke confidentially in his ear. (70-72)
This scene, which marks Bernice's arrival on the social scene, notably provokes mixed reactions – interest and appreciation from the men, and wariness from the girls. Another competitor has entered the popularity contest.
"You see," said Marjorie at the top of the stairs, "one man sees another man cut in and he thinks there must be something there." (80)
Marjorie exposes another truth here – the competition isn't just limited to the female population. Apparently, one of the tricks of the popular trade is playing upon this sense of competition which, it's clear, is a fundamental element of the society Fitzgerald depicts.
But Bernice saw nothing, heard nothing. Her only living sense told her that this man in the white coat had removed one tortoise-shell comb and then another; that his fingers were fumbling clumsily with unfamiliar hairpins; that this hair, this wonderful hair of hers, was going--she would never again feel its long voluptuous pull as it hung in a dark-brown glory down her back. For a second she was near breaking down, and then the picture before her swam mechanically into her vision – Marjorie's mouth curling in a faint ironic smile as if to say:
"Give up and get down! You tried to buck me and I called your bluff. You see you haven't got a prayer."
And some last energy rose up in Bernice, for she clinched her hands under the white cloth, and there was a curious narrowing of her eyes that Marjorie remarked on to some one long afterward. (111-112)
What drives Bernice to finally act is competition. At this moment, she fully rises to Marjorie's bait, and engages in all-out combat with her cousin.