It's Every Girl for Herself in Bernice Bobs Her Hair
Picture a fragile glass merry-go-round, a menagerie, if you will, of adolescent social classes and structure. The animals revolve, always mindlessly following the one in front, each measuring his own height compared to his neighbors. If you fall short or fall behind, never fear, just throw a jagged rock and shatter Mr. Popularity in front, take his place, and the merry-go-round revolves still. There is no world outside, nothing matters more than this brittle status-seeking ambition and the taboos, requirements, and rewards that come with it. Every action is fair game, whatever it takes to achieve your supremacy is allowed and accepted. Fitzgerald's "Bernice Bobs Her Hair", from his collection The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, revolves significantly around this "semicruel world of adolescence" (26), where, as the character Marjorie eloquently states, "these days it's every girl for herself" (30).
Fitzgerald opens the story at a dance, the setting itself creating an immediate and vivid picture of the rotating social classes. Teenagers whirl in, whirl about, and some, "A few disappointed stags caught in midfloor as they had been about to cut in subsided listlessly back to the walls" (26), whirl directly out of the popularity-ring. These unfortunately pathetic young men didn't make the cut, because "this was not like the riotous Christmas dances - these summer hops were considered just pleasantly warm and exciting" (26); they were neither suave nor provocative enough to climb the social ladder. Apparently, charm and wit buy popularity- those without must take their places on the sidelines.
Male / female relations too are a crucial and continually fluid aspect of the social merry-go-round. One second up, the other down, emotions change like the wind. Marjorie first displays this in her fickle attitude towards men. Regarding Warren, once the object of her affections, "sometimes she seemed to reciprocate his feeling with a faint gratitude, but she had tried him by her infallible test and informed him gravely that she did not love him." (27); Warren had singularly been devoted to Marjorie for years, but he failed the "test", and, like the pathetic boys at the dance, she pushed him to the sidelines. The "test", interestingly enough, "was that when she was away from him she forgot him and had affairs with other boys." (27). Warren just couldn't measure up to the competition, and Marjorie, exercising necessary social judgement, casually is willing to inform him "gravely" as such. She has no reason not to throw that rock and shatter his affections, because, after all, she has "great heaps of mail... addressed to her in various masculine handwritings." (27) to fall back on.
Bernice, Marjorie's "sorta dopeless" (27) cousin enters the scene. Boys reluctantly dance with her, until finally, what choice do they have but to break out the "two by four" and...