A Fan That Can Heat Things Up Or Cool Things Down

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"There was a moment's silence while she did unimpressive things with her fan" (Fitzgerald Part I, Paragraph 30)  This quote also goes along with: "She turned an ungraceful red and became clumsy with her fan" (Fitzgerald Part I, Paragraph 37).  See this site for more significant quotes from Bernice Bobs Her Hair by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Even though as critical readers we are supposed to look beyond our own perspectives while reading a text, we still keep those lenses through which we see the world.  My one specific lens to which I am referring to is that of the Spanish major.  Why I am I telling you this?  So that you can understand why this specific quote jumped out to me. 

In Spanish culture, the fan was not simply a device used to bring a nice cool breeze to the ladies' faces--it was used as a courtship device as well.  (You can read more about it here in the first paragraph of this article.)  They used the fan to their advantage by fluttering it excitedly when they wanted to attract a male's attention or waving it lazily when they were trying to show their dislike. 

The fact that Warren notices how Bernice holds her fan shows that it was an important social tool in this society as well.  The words that he uses to describe the manner in which she uses it ("unimpressive" and "clumsy") shows his overall opinion of her.  She either has very little confidence in herself, is not interested in Warren, or simply does not intend to use the fan as a flirtation device.  It amazes me how the smallest details can affect a someone's opinion of a person.

2 Comments

Greta Carroll said:

Lauren, I like how you drew a connection between Spanish culture and that in Fitzgerald’s story. I think the fan is used in the same way in some Asian cultures as well. I really liked your comment on how such insignificant details actually affect people’s opinions, as you said, “It amazes me how the smallest details can affect someone's opinion of a person.” Bernice is totally unaware of how careful she needs to be. It makes me feel very glad I don’t need to carry a fan around, I doubt I would be cognizant enough to give the correct signals with it. One would have to be constantly thinking in order to get the right message across with it. But even if we don’t use fans today, I think people still are very judgmental of other people’s actions.

Excellent analysis, Lauren. While we don't see any evidence that Bernice has any Spanish blood, note that she does have Indian blood, and note that when she gets her hair cut, the men in the barber shop speak in ways that suggest they are recent immigrants.

I've used an ethnic reading in class when I've taught Bernice before, and this detail sort of works against the reading that I use... thanks for bringing it up. I'm sure that the warmer climate in Spain meant that Spanish ladies would have much more time to figure out how to use a fan to their advantage, but ladies in America would have probably adopted whatever traditions there were surrounding fans in England. I'd never really considered this detail before.

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