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January 25, 2007

What to Say and How to Act in Social Situations: A Difference of Opinion

Fitzgerald, ''Bernice Bobs Her Hair'' (online) -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

Chapter II (paragraph 2)
"Bernice felt a vague pain that she was not at present engaged in being popular...she knew that even in Eau Claire other girls with less position and less pulchritude were given a bigger rush. It had never worried her, and if it had her mother would have assured her that the other girls cheapened themselves and that men really respected girls like Bernice."

Chapter III (paragraph 86)
"'If you go to a dance and really amuse, say, three sad birds that dance with you; if you talk so well to them that they forget they're suck with you, you've done something. They'll come back next time, and gradually so many sad birds will dance with you that the attractive boys will see there's no danger of being stuck - then they'll dance with you.’”

I decided to pick these two quotations from the work instead of just one because I thought that they illustrate the contrast between how Bernice and Marjorie think about how to look and act in social situations. Marjorie's lecture in chapter three reminds me of an essay I read in high school called "Well-Informed Circles and How to Move in Them" (I believe by Evelyn Waugh). We read it in my AP Language and Composition class and we were supposed to apply the essay to another of Fitzgerald's works The Great Gatsby. In this part of the story, Marjorie is telling Bernice exactly what she has to do in order to be considered well-like and popular, even if it means saying or doing things for attention, stretching the truth, and overall just pretending to be something other than you are. She tells Bernice that if she can impress enough of the people who “don’t matter,” then the people who do will be curious enough to give her a chance. If I remember correctly, the "Well-Informed Circles..." essay suggested that a person do many similar things in order to seem more important than one really is, and how once they have done that, it becomes easier to actually become known as one who is actually "important."

Posted by LorinSchumacher at January 25, 2007 1:39 PM


That’s immediately what I thought, Lorin, about how the differences of how each acts in social situations. Gatsby is my all-time favorite, and I use it to compare many other works. Fitzgerald always does a lot with this theme of doing anything it takes to fit in. Possibly because he was the one at the parties doing it, I think Gatsby’s character has a lot of Fitzgerald’s childhood ambitions attached to him. If you compare Marjorie and Bernice to Nick (the narrator of Gatsby) and Gatsby, I think there is a lot of similarities between the pairs. Nick like Bernice and Gatsby like Marjorie. Every time I read Bernice Bobs Her Hair I think of Gatsby. I don’t know if it is because I view Bernice Bobs Her Hair as Fitzgerald’s writing practice for Gatsby’s “greatness” or if I just love that book that much. But the theme of “fitting in” and secrets, Bernice’s secret that she doesn’t really mean to bob her hair and Gatsby’s secret of how he attained his wealth, is so strongly represented in both. I also think the way each is revealed is similar in that both secrets are revealed in front of the group of friends and are out of jealously/revenge. Also both lead to high speed car scenes, which is also fun!

Posted by: Sean at January 25, 2007 10:24 PM

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