Firstly, the story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” may seem as the one that deals with such usual and trivial issues as competitiveness between the young girls, jealousy and revenge. However, it has a deeper meaning and symbolic interpretation. While reading the story, it becomes clear that a sign of hair and particularly a haircut has a great weight in the story.
To begin, the story deals with two young girls, a blonde-haired Marjorie and her dark-haired cousin Bernice. As long as hair plays a significant role in the story, it may be assumed that the hair color of the two main characters was chosen not randomly. The girls represent two opposite characters with polar notions of how a decent woman should behave and look. Blonde-haired Marjorie is an entitlement of the ‘American dream’, commonly accepted role model of a pretty young girl with “fairylike face and a dazzling, bewildering tongue”, while her dark-haired cousin Bernice is claimed to be “sorta dopless” and “no fun on a party”.
In order to understand better the contextual meaning of hair in the story, the one should have some knowledge about the social background of the time when the story took place. Up until the 1920s, long and glorious hair was a key component of traditional feminine beauty. In the story, Marjorie’s blonde hair may symbolize glory, popularity and prosperity. With “two long blond braids”, Marjorie is compared to a “delicate painting of some Saxon princess”. The idea of bobbed hair itself, which appeared during the Roaring Twenties, was considered scandalous and, as Bernice comments, even “unmoral” (Beegel 65).
The scandalous idea of hair bobbing was initially used by Bernice as a trick to shock people and attract their attention. Later it appeared that of all Bernice’s conversation “perhaps the best known and most universally approved line was about the bobbing of her hair”. From the story, we found that the trick worked out and tha people are shocked with Bernice’s “tonsorial intentions”, which were “strictly dishonorable”. She jokingly expresses her intention to become a “social vampire”, and that bobbing is a “prelude” to it. Bobbed hair, which actually helped her to cut in, became a thing that led to the fatal ending of her popularity.
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Like many other modernist writers of the early 20th century, Fitzgerald tried to mockingly feminize the conservative middle class (Frances 82). Therefore, a haircut “bob”, which caused such a resonance in the story, may be seen as a sign of feminism. Bernice goes to the Sevier Hotel barber-shop as at that time such types of haircut were given only in the men’s barber shops. Having done such a brave but rash action, Bernice puts herself on the road of rebellion against the commonly accepted norms and terms of conduct. Throughout the story, Bernice’s hair is associated with feminine charm and beauty. Therefore, when Bernice bobs her hair, she loses the “Madonna-like simplicity” and severs herself symbolically from the Victorian ideal of womanliness (Beegel 73). She takes a masculine role, which was seen rather as a misconception and unmoral action than a manifestation of resolution and firmness. When Bernice cuts her hair, she becomes a symbol of a new masculine vigor and independence (Frances 82). In the story, the great significance and tenseness of such an action as hair bobbing is intensified with the statement “Bernice had all the sensations of Marie Antoinette bound for the guillotine in a tumbrel”.
It must be said that bobbing hair was not simply a dramatic change of Bernice’s appearance. New haircut symbolizes the inner makeover of Bernice as it is stated in the story “It was quite a new look for Bernice, and it carried consequences”. Therefore, losing the “dark brown glory” of her hair, Bernice loses her indecision and lack of self-confidence, but gains the independence of thought and action. Moreover, it may be stated that the bobbing released the genuine nature of Bernice. She has abandoned the pretty, virginal appearance of a “little woman” for the hard and experienced appearance of a New Woman (Beegel 71). At once, a shy and reserved girl demolishes her notions of a good behavior and does something she would never do before. It is a climax in the story when Bernice rebels against the unfair attitude of her cousin Marjorie, who used to be “sphinx of the sphinx” for her and without hesitations, takes her revenge. While Marjorie is sleeping, Bernice cut her “heavy and luxurious” hair, which is a sign of her glory and power.
“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” may be seen as one of the Fitzgerald’s signature pieces about the competiveness of social classes and the savage of the privileged classes (Beegel 68). Marjorie symbolizes a typical city girl, obsessed with dances, fun and spending leisure time flirting with young men. Bernice, on the contrary, is described as a modest well-brought-up country girl. Her dark hair also indicated about her Indian origin. The whole story may be seen as an allegory of the changing mores and the incident with the haircut may symbolize the superficiality of the upper-class society, whose loyalty Bernice was trying to gain. Marjorie’s desire to help Bernice to cut in appeared to be just a deceptive illusion. Bernice was trying to change herself in order to meet the requirements of Marjorie’s surrounding, but finally failed. Having her hair cut, Bernice is immediately rejected by people she supposed to be friends with. Although she was rejected by Marjorie’s upper-class surrounding, it may be stated that by bobbing her hair, Bernice rejects and escapes the small-minded world of her social class (Frances 82).
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To conclude, a sign of hair may be analyzed from different perspectives. If take into consideration the social background, it symbolizes feminism, but if take from the personal perspective of Bernice it may also be seen as a sign of inner makeover and liberation from the old-fashioned convictions.