Study Guide

Bernice Bobs Her Hair Identity

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Identity

"What's a little cheap popularity?"

Mrs. Harvey sounded annoyed.

"It's everything when you're eighteen," said Marjorie emphatically. (29-30)

The most valuable thing here isn't what a person is like – rather, all that matters to Marjorie is social standing.

"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 marvelous dancer. She's been popular for ages!" (33)

Identity here isn't just based on personality – it's based on public image and gimmicks. Marjorie clearly conceives of identity as a matter of public relations, in which one can only be identified as "popular" or "unpopular."

Next time Bernice danced near, Warren regarded her intently. Yes, she was pretty, distinctly pretty; and to-night her face seemed really vivacious. She had that look that no woman, however histrionically proficient, can successfully counterfeit – she looked as if she were having a good time. He liked the way she had her hair arranged, wondered if it was brilliantine that made it glisten so. And that dress was becoming – a dark red that set off her shadowy eyes and high coloring. He remembered that he had thought her pretty when she first came to town, before he had realized that she was dull. Too bad she was dull – dull girls unbearable – certainly pretty though. (75)

For the first time, Warren takes a real look at Bernice – and notices a change. We also notice a significant change – she's actually, genuinely, whole-heartedly having fun. Can it be that there's more to Bernice than her outmoded beliefs and stuffy platitudes?

As Bernice took down her hair she passed the evening before her in review. She had followed instructions exactly. Even when Charley Paulson cut in for the eighth time she had simulated delight and had apparently been both interested and flattered. 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.

But a few minutes before she fell asleep a rebellious thought was churning drowsily in her brain--after all, it was she who had done it. Marjorie, to be sure, had given her her conversation, but then Marjorie got much of her conversation out of things she read. Bernice had bought the red dress, though she had never valued it highly before Marjorie dug it out of her trunk--and her own voice had said the words, her own lips had smiled, her own feet had danced. (82)

Huzzah! Bernice has reached a new point in her self-discovery – she is capable of making her own fortune. For the first time, she feels empowered and responsible for her own success, even if Marjorie helped more than a little bit.

Bernice stood on the curb and looked at the sign, Sevier Barber-Shop. It was a guillotine indeed, and the hangman was the first barber, who, attired in a white coat and smoking a cigarette, leaned nonchalantly against the first chair. He must have heard of her; he must have been waiting all week, smoking eternal cigarettes beside that portentous, too-often-mentioned first chair. Would they blindfold her? No, but they would tie a white cloth round her neck lest any of her blood – nonsense – hair – should get on her clothes. (106)

Finally, Bernice is pushed to the point of crisis. Her new identity, the daring flapper, comes up against her old one, represented by her beautiful hair (all-too-significantly confused with her "blood").

Twenty minutes later the barber swung her round to face the mirror, and she flinched at the full extent of the damage that had been wrought. Her hair was not curly, and now it lay in lank lifeless blocks on both sides of her suddenly pale face. It was ugly as sin--she had known it would be ugly as sin. Her face's chief charm had been a Madonna-like simplicity. Now that was gone and she was – well, frightfully mediocre – not stagy; only ridiculous, like a Greenwich Villager who had left her spectacles at home. (113)

With all vestiges of her old self removed, Bernice is like a different person – and not in a good way. She's at a certain middle ground here, stripped of her old persona, and without a definite new one.

Suddenly she drew in her breath sharply and an expression flashed into her eyes that a practised 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. (125)

Here's something interesting – the emergence of a new Bernice. Or rather, a new new Bernice. The determination that shines in her eyes here shows us that she has changed profoundly; this newfound identity is both intriguing and a little menacing. What are the "consequences" of it?

Down-stairs she opened the big front door, closed it carefully behind her, and feeling oddly happy and exuberant stepped off the porch into the moonlight, swinging her heavy grip like a shopping-bag. After a minute's brisk walk she discovered that her left hand still held the two blond braids. She laughed unexpectedly – had to shut her mouth hard to keep from emitting an absolute peal. She was passing Warren's house now, and on the impulse she set down her baggage, and swinging the braids like pieces of rope flung them at the wooden porch, where they landed with a slight thud. She laughed again, no longer restraining herself.

"Huh!" she giggled wildly. "Scalp the selfish thing!" (128)

The new (real?) Bernice is indeed a force to be reckoned with. The glee that she feels here is definitely both joyful and a little hysterical – what exactly has been unleashed by the barber's scissors? Her final line, "Scalp the selfish thing!" refers back to Marjorie's pejorative comment about Bernice's "crazy Indian blood"; through this parallel, Fitzgerald suggests that there's something ancestrally savage about this new, liberated Bernice.