Bernice Bobs Her Hair

by

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Bernice Bobs Her Hair: Part 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Over the next week, Bernice enjoys the positive attention of her peers as she continues to impress them and get along well with them. She makes the occasional faux pas—such as when she flirts with a young man studying to become a minister—but on the whole, she find success with boys, and builds a new sense of self-confidence. Throughout this time, the teasing promise that she will get a bob haircut continues to serve her well, though she has no intention of actually committing to it.
Here already, Fitzgerald shows that Bernice’s promise to bob her hair is not a sustainable way to win popularity. Even though this is the last week of her visit, it’s unlikely that she can avoid getting a haircut without negative consequences. Bernice’s inability to realize this shows just how naive she still is.
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The chief marker of Bernice’s success is the attention of “the hypercritical Warren McIntyre,” who seems to have lost interest in Marjorie in favor of someone more accessible. Though his motives remain unclear, his intentions are unmistakable: he is interested in Bernice, not Marjorie. Gossip ensues, and Marjorie avoids humiliation by pretending to be indifferent to Warren’s choice, even supportive of it. Privately, however, she warns Bernice to give up on Warren, saying that he “doesn’t care a snap of his fingers about you.” Bernice, though angry, is horrified and guilty to have “stolen Marjorie’s property” inadvertently.
Marjorie’s refusal to date Warren only worked in her favor because Warren was not interested in anybody else, and so he continued to pursue her. Now she seems foolish—and moreover, Bernice seems the more attractive girl by virtue of Warren’s choice. Again, Warren is a status symbol for these girls—but despite reducing him to this, they still lack power compared to him. It is his choice, not their efforts, which ultimately determines which girl is more popular.
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Later that day, at a party, Marjorie remarks to those present that Bernice is merely bluffing about her hair. The other teenagers question Bernice about it—and Bernice, backed into a corner, feeling pressure from Warren’s eyes “fixed on her questioningly,” eventually responds with the lie that “I like bobbed hair […] and I intend to bob mine.” Marjorie demands to know when, and soon everyone is convinced to have a “summer bobbing party” at the barber shop that very day. Bernice is mortified as she approaches the barber shop but feels that this “was the test supreme of her sportsmanship; her right to walk unchallenged into the starry heaven of popular girls,” and so she does not let herself be dissuaded.
Fitzgerald shows peer pressure and crowd behavior at work, as one conclusion quickly leads to another, prompted only a few comments from Marjorie. Though this group of teenagers has already been shown to be eager, superficial, and unforgiving, here that attitude is compounded by the sheer number of them present.
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Before entering, Bernice imagines that the barber has been waiting for her the entire time. She imagines the barber’s chair as the site of an execution and her shed hair as blood. When she enters the barber shop and requests that the barber bob her hair, the man is astonished. From outside, passers-by remark on her long, beautiful hair. The adults seem genuinely shocked that Bernice would cut her hair, but Bernice is so focused on the task ahead of her that she does not notice.
Bernice’s insecurities have skewed her perception of reality. Where Bernice imagines a hostile, judgmental world all around her, the adults in this scene are merely curious. If anything, rather than judging Bernice for not having come sooner, the barber sees little good in cutting long hair as lovely as hers.
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As she settles into the barber’s chair, it is the sight of Marjorie’s goading smile that gives Bernice the determination to commit to the haircut. There is a “curious narrowing of her eyes” as she does so, “that Marjorie remarked on to some one long afterward.” Bernice submits to the haircut knowing that it will be ugly, and indeed it is “ugly as sin.” Her face’s “Madonna-like simplicity” is not served well at all by short hair, and she looks instead “like a Greenwich Villager who had left her spectacles at home.” There is an awkward silence as she climbs down from the chair, as everyone realizes how ugly her hair looks now. With “serpentlike intensity,” Marjorie steals Warren’s company for that evening by asking his help with an errand. His eyes “rested coldly on Bernice before they turned to Marjorie,” as he leaves Bernice for her.
Fitzgerald foreshadows that the look Bernice gives Marjorie will be significant later. For only that moment—when Bernice narrows her eyes at Marjorie—the narrator omits Bernice’s internal thoughts. Where before they were so close to Bernice as to see her visions of being beheaded in the barber’s chair, the reader is now left looking upon her from outside. The only comment on this look is from “long afterward,” from a future Marjorie, indicating that this moment of betrayal will not be the final blow struck between these two girls. Another point of note here is the “Madonna-like simplicity” of Bernice’s face, now ruined by her haircut, symbolizing the loss of innocence which took place when her cousin betrayed her.
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