28 October 2014
Conformity Versus Individuality in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”
Anyone who might read the short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald might analyze it and immediately take note that it is a story with a strong central focus on societal norms of the early 20th century and how those norms begin to change, especially among women of era. In “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” we observe as the story’s central characters—a pair of young women—challenge the traditional gender roles set upon them by society, and in doing so, challenge the idea of conformity itself. Clearly this reflects the actual mindset of young women who lived ...view middle of the document...
This progression is seen as desirable to young men, and Bernice desires to become more like Marjorie, despite the latter lacking “the qualities which Bernice considered appropriately and blessedly female” (1577), which is where the theme of identity plays in. Bernice’s decision also represents the greater mindset of women at the time, who desired the same thing—to escape traditional gender norms and societal norms and become more independent and individual. These are the obvious themes that can be observed in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” and they seem to paint a clear picture of what Fitzgerald is trying to say with this story, but there is much more to take from this story that one might miss.
As said before, while the story appears to be about breaking societal norms and independence from gender roles, it seems to be more about the actual lack of such independence and individuality. This is made clear at several points throughout the story, beginning with the initial contrast of Marjorie’s and Bernice’s character and which is seen as more “desirable.” When observed side-by-side, we can see that ultimately Marjorie’s role as the bold and outgoing “new woman” is much more desirable than Bernice’s traditional role as the old-fashioned, sophisticated woman. We see this play out during the initial dance scene where Marjorie has most of the boys desiring a dance with her while Bernice is actively ignored, even avoided, by the young men of the dance. This is confirmed later during Marjorie’s discussion with her mother about Bernice in which she says that “She’s absolutely hopeless… Men don’t like her” (1578). Upon hearing this conversation, Bernice realizes that she is not desirable and eventually resolves to change in order to be more like Marjorie. With Marjorie’s personality seen as more desirable and with Bernice’s decision to conform rather than be independent and individual, we see a clear contrast with the supposed themes of identity and breaking free of social-norms as many of the young women of the time believe they are doing.
Another example of these contrasting themes occurs when Bernice changes to become more like Marjorie and quickly develops the desirable traits that she had hoped for. Most men who once pined for Marjorie, including her “best,” Warren McIntyre, have now transferred their feelings over to Marjorie, who has become a much more bold and attractive person as a result of her change. During a dance, as Bernice gains attention from many who are interested by her comments about “bobbing” her hair, Warren notices Bernice and “regarded her intently” (1584) going over to dance with her. Neither Warren nor any of the other boys would have ever “intently regarded” Bernice had she not conformed to adopt Marjorie’s bold personality and style. This does not seem so strange at first consideration knowing that, in this time and among this generation, being bold and breaking free of social norms is considered desirable. But it creates a...