AMST 246: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner

Lecture 12

 - Fitzgerald's Short Stories


Professor Wai Chee Dimock demonstrates how four of Fitzgerald’s most famous short stories–“The Rich Boy,” “Babylon Revisited,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”–represent “social types,” generic identities that Fitzgerald explores as forms of social reality.  She reads the dramatic tension in each of those stories as determined by the protagaonist’s conformity to or deviation from their idealized social type. 

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Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner

AMST 246 - Lecture 12 - Fitzgerald's Short Stories

Chapter 1: Individuals and Types [00:00:00]

Professor Wai Chee Dimock: I’m going to get started on the Fitzgerald stories.   We might be under the mis-impression from reading the short stories that maybe Fitzgerald went to Yale. He didn’t. He was Princeton, Class of 1917.

And there is an interesting fact that I found from thePrincetonlibrary. This is a receipt that Fitzgerald had at the Triangle Club. And because so many of the short stories have to do with clubs, the Yale club, and so on, it’s interesting just to have this document showing that he was a member of the Triangle Club. And this is a letter that he wrote to his classmate, also Princeton 1917, Ludlow Fowler, who would go on to become a very prominent New York lawyer, the founder of a very prominent law firm. This is what he wrote to Ludlow Fowler.

“I have written a 15,000-word story about you called ‘The Rich Boy.’ It is in a large measure the story of your life, toned down here and there and simplified. Also, many gaps had to come out of my imagination. It is frank, unsparing, but sympathetic, and I think you would like it.”

It’s astonishing that he should think so, that anyone would actually like this story if it’s supposedly based on their lives. But in any case, this is what authors sometimes think about their own work.  I think we know just from our edition in the short stories that there were a couple of episodes that Ludlow Fowler made Fitzgerald take out. They are reinserted now in brackets, but obviously there was historical proof that Ludlow Fowler was pretty upset by the story.

But in any case, Fitzgerald really thought that this was a story about a friend of his and that the friendship was actually what propelled him into writing this story. So it’s also in that story that he lays out his theory about fiction and especially the way that characters are to be described in fiction.  Here’s Fitzgerald.

“Begin with an individual, and before you know it, you find that you have created a type. Begin with a type, and you find that you have created– nothing. There are no types, no plurals. There is a rich boy, and this is his, and not his brother’s, story. All my life, I have lived among his brothers, but this one has been my friend.”

Still staying within the story itself that this is about someone who he still calls his friend. This is his theory. Let’s see what Fitzgerald does in practice, because we know that quite often there’s a distance between what authors profess they’re doing and what they actually end up doing. So this is his practice right on the next page.

Chapter 2: The Rich Boy as a Type [00:04:26]

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think deep in their hearts that they are better than we are, because we have to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that we are better than we are.”

So let’s say a couple of things here. First, obviously, is that Fitzgerald is using a type, a social label. He’s turning a rich boy into a social type and generalizing about this entire social type. So in many ways, he is doing exactly what he says writers should never do, proceeding with a type.

But I think that we should also say that given the fact that he is using a type, that the rich boy is a generic identity that he honors, that he recognizes as a reality, that even though he is doing that, the contents that he attributes to that type actually are pretty interesting. According to him, a rich boy, or the rich, are people who are different from people who are not rich because of two things, that they are soft where we are hard and that they are cynical where we are trustful. Those two actually pull in two different directions.

If we were just to take the first one, that they are soft where we are hard, that’s very understandable, that because they didn’t have to struggle all that much, they don’t have the kind of hardihood that comes to people when they have to struggle a lot just to get the bare essentials from life.  That would be completely understandable.

But what is interesting is that right after that comes a statement that completely is on the other side of the spectrum, that whereas the rest of us are trustful, the rich actually are cynical. So how could this be? Under what circumstances would the rest of us be trustful, whereas the rich would be cynical? This is not so self-evident. It is something that Fitzgerald would just throw out as a generalization, seemingly just something that he would make– a casual point that he would make. But actually it’s quite puzzling.

We have to figure out in the course of the story, “The Rich Boy” – why it is that even though they’re soft most of the time, there are also moments when they are actually harder than we are, they are more cynical than the rest of us.  In any case, all we can say at this point is that even though, yes, Fitzgerald uses social types in his stories, that he has a very interesting understanding of those social types.  We can say that he’s really not so much subscribing to the notion of social types as playing with them, putting pressure on them, looking at all the possible permutations of social types.

This is something that we’ve already talked about a little bit last week when we talked about To Have and Have Not and Hemingway’s use of those two types, “have” and “have not.”  Today I want to go back a little bit and give you in many ways the genealogy to that kind of thinking, thinking in terms of social types.

Chapter 3: The Sociology of Types [00:08:27]

And it actually goes back to the mid-nineteenth century. This is a very famous text, scientific text– what aspires to be a scientific text– by Josiah Nott and George Gliddon called Types of Mankind. And if you guys are fans of Stephen Jay Gould, you’ll see that this text is actually mentioned by Stephen Jay Gould in his book The Mismeasure of Man. That’s where I got my information from.

In 1854, the understanding– there’s a clear correlation, obviously, between the facial features of a Caucasian person, a very Greek-looking person, classical profile, and this very flat facial structure, bone structure of the face. The skull corresponds to the facial features.

And then obviously the implication is that blacks and gorillas actually have the same skull formation. So we can see where this is heading. This is the sort of science that is quite common in the mid-nineteenth century, talking about social types in order to suggest a very close kinship between certain types of humans and certain types of animals. That’s the impetus behind that kind of taxonomic thinking.  This was in the mid-nineteenth century, and by the twentieth century, that pretty much has receded into the background.  Let’s look at another kind of thinking about types. And as we can see from this very sober-looking, no-thrills, no-nonsense look of the treatise, this is a very highly respected sociological treatise by Burgess, E. W. Burgess, and RobertEzraParkcalled Introduction to the Science of Sociology.

And it turns out that social types, the notion of social types, is crucial to the birth of sociology. This is what Robert E. Park says. “I did not see how we could have anything like scientific research unless we had a system of classification and a frame of reference into which we could sort out and describe in general terms the things we were attempting to investigate.”

So – a system of classification and a frame of reference into which we should sort out and describe in general terms. Obviously, there’s a degree of extraction going on, a degree of generalization going on. We need to be able to generalize from individual cases in order to create a system of classification.  In many ways, that’s the very foundation of the science called sociology.

And Fitzgerald, and Hemingway as well, they were both very much moving in that very pervasive, very common intellectual climate.  I want to stop here for a brief moment and talk a little bit about the interconnections among the texts that we’ve read so far. As you guys recognized last week when we were talking about To Have and Have Not, we were talking about Harry Morgan as a kind of tension– the character is a tension between a type, between label of generic type and a deviation from type. And we mentioned that in fact, it’s only when he is mediated through the presence of other people, when he’s channeled through Marie or when he’s contrasted with Robert Gordon, that he actually becomes somebody who’s not a social type.  That’s Hemingway thinking about types.

I also want to go back a little bit further and refresh your memory about The Sound and the Fury. In The Sound and the Fury, we talked a lot about the relation between today and tomorrow. Obviously, time is central to The Sound and the Fury. And we were talking about Benjy’s, Quentin’s, and Jason’s tomorrow as one of the most important things linking the three brothers.

Today, what I would like to do is to combine those two analytic structures to create a new structure to talk about Fitzgerald’s short stories. We’ll be talking about type and variation, but mapped onto the concept of the relation between today and tomorrow.  If you belong to a certain type, if you can be labeled by a generic identity, what is the possible future for you? What is the possible tomorrow for you? So basically a combination of Hemingway and Faulkner.

But I also want to introduce a new layer, a new analytic layer into our discussion, which is the difference between a story that is dramatic and a story that is not dramatic. And the four stories that we’re reading today represent very interesting permutations on that platform.  We’ll be talking about that too.

And this is just a very quick run through of the argument that I’ll try to make today. “The Rich Boy” is about excessive conformity to type. Tomorrow is going to be exactly like today, and so it is not dramatic. “Babylon Revisited” is in many ways a kind of rewriting of “The Rich Boy.” It’s about someone who conforms to type to a large extent, but not entirely, and what happens when that’s the case. And so tomorrow is not quite like today, but still it’s not a dramatic story.

And then we move on two stories that are very dramatic. “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” as we know from the title, it’s large-scale drama. It’s very dramatic. And then “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” small-scale drama, but also dramatic.

Chapter 4: Yale as a Social Marker in “The Rich Boy” [00:14:40]

But let’s take a closer look at “Rich Boy.” And even though Fitzgerald went intoPrinceton, for some reason Yale is the reference point for him.  The Yale Club is a social marker. And it’s very interesting that actually Fitzgerald makes the point that Anson Hunter actually was not popular when he was at Yale.  Fitzgerald is making a distinction betweenYaleCollegeinNew Havenand the Yale Club inNew York City. And he’s really talking about the Yale Club inNew York Cityand not so muchYaleCollege.

Anson is devoted to the Yale Club. He’s always there. But there’s also the sense that maybe it’s too much of a good thing. And so there’s the possibility that excessive conformity to type–he’s the Yale Club type–that being too much of that would actually lead to some kind of deviation.

But first of all, this is the devotion to the Yale Club.

“But he never abandoned the Yale Club. He was a figure there, a personality, and a tendency of his class, who were now seven years of college, to drift away to more sober haunts was checked by his presence.” So this is a very unremarkable sentence in many ways. It’s not something that we would know. It’s very matter-of-fact. It’s very neutrally descriptive. He’s a pillar of the Yale Club, and his presence there is an anchor for other people, so they stick around because of him.

There’s nothing to say one way or another, really, about this description of Anson Hunter, other than the fact that it’s a little odd that seven years out of college that the Yale Club is still the very center of his universe.  It’s just beginning to look a little odd, but the description in itself is not especially dramatic or noticeable, really. But more towards the middle of the story, in fact, after some things have happened, we know that he missed his chance to marry Paula. He misses his chance to marry Dolly. His life seems to be a catalogue now of things that are not done, the things that he could’ve done, that he chooses not to do, or that he perversely allows not to happen. It is beginning to look that way. And it is at this moment that the excessive devotion to the Yale Club becomes almost a summary of what kind of a person he is.

“It was a hot Friday afternoon in May, and as he walked on the pier, he realized that Saturday closing had begun, and he was free until Monday morning. ‘Go where?’ he asked himself. The Yale Club, of course. Bridge until dinner, then four or five raw cocktails in somebody’s room and a pleasant, confused evening.”

It’s still quite neutral. It’s not registering any shock about this non-turn of events.  Basically, nothing happens in Anson’s life.  All these things that could have happened that would have been a significant development in his life, significant turning points, all those important turning points were roads not taken by Anson.  He’s still going to the Yale Club.

But at this point, going to the Yale Club becomes a measure of the poverty of his life. Before, it had been a tribute to the fact that he’s such an important presence there. He’s a pillar of the Yale Club. Now he’s going there because he doesn’t have anything else.   From being a plus in his life– something that he has on his resume, that he’s such an important figure at the Yale Club– from being a plus on his resume, it becomes not exactly a minus, but a sign that things are just starting not to go well for him or that we’re beginning to see that some things are beginning to go wrong.  It’s an indication of a life that is not taking shape as it should.

And the story really is about the possible shapes of one’s life. If Anson had married Paula, it would’ve taken a very, very different shape. It’s the fact that he doesn’t allow his life to take that shape that it retains the original shape, which I guess is good in one sense– it wasn’t such a bad shape to begin with– but the fact remains that there’s absolutely no change in his life, that tomorrow is going to be exactly like yesterday and like today.

This is the very end of the story. And this is on a boat. And the narrator is actually happy that things have– that this is how things stand for Anson.

“And he told me about the girl in the red tam and his adventures with her, making them all bizarre and amusing, as he had a way of doing, and I was glad that he was himself again, or at least the self that I knew and with which I felt at home. I don’t think he was ever happy unless someone was in love with him, responding to him, like filings to a magnet, helping him to explain himself, promising him something. What it was, I do not know. Perhaps they promised that there would always be women in the world who would spend the highest, freshest, rarest hours to nurse that superiority he cherished in his heart.”

It is in many ways a portrait of a social type. It really comes back to that recognizable social profile, someone who, because he has such a large and guaranteed and very, very secure income–he’s very, very successful in his firm, and he’s the pillar, the head of his family–because so many things are a given in his life, what is also a given is the understanding that there would always be a supply of women who would gravitate towards him and be bowled over by him. People were still bowled over by him if they’d just see him for the first time. And it’s that capacity, that knowledge, that certainty that there would always be women who would be bowled over by him that makes him what he is.

Fitzgerald’s definition of the rich boy extends far beyond the amount of money that Anson Hunter has, even though that is not an unimportant consideration. But it really is in many ways the starting point for a whole psychological profile about what it means when someone takes a lot of things for granted and the ways in which taking so many things for granted can actually be a psychological liability. It’s actually not good for us, according to Fitzgerald, to be able to take so many things for granted, especially for people to take other human beings for granted. And that is exactly the most fundamental truth about Anson Hunter.

Chapter 5: Social Profiles in “Babylon Revisited” [00:22:55]

Social types are important. There’s no question about it. But there’s the paradox that Anson becomes almost kind of an extreme test case of a very recognizable social profile. Just to show what a range Fitzgerald has and the way that he can start at almost exactly the same starting point but end up in a different place, I thought that maybe we should look at “Babylon Revisited.” It’s also about a rich man, someone who’s never eaten in a cheap restaurant in Paris. I think that that really is raising the bar very high. It’s not like we go to Paris every day. But never to have eaten in a cheap restaurant inParis, so that is the threshold for Charlie.  It would be all too easy to say, OK, here’s another rich boy and this conformity to type.

What is also interesting about Charlie is that he has in common with Anson the fact that they both are hard drinkers.  Four or five martinis is really nothing. It’s just the norm. It’s just the beginning, really.  The hard drinking, the taking things for granted, the lack of variety in the experience – all of those things they have in common. Because they are so rich, all of those things they have in common.

But what is interesting about Charlie is that, in fact, his life has a very, very different trajectory from that of Anson’s. And it is actually a happy ending.  Let’s see what happens at the very end of Charlie’s story, “Babylon Revisited.”

“He went back to his table. His whiskey glass was empty, but he shook his head when Alix looked at it questioningly. There wasn’t much he could do now except send Honoria some things. He would send her a lot of things tomorrow. ‘No, no more,’ he said to another waiter. ‘What do I owe you?’ He would come back someday. They couldn’t make him pay forever. But he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now beside that fact. He wasn’t young anymore, with a lot of nice thoughts and dreams to have by himself. He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn’t have wanted him to be so alone.”

Right here, we can see a lot of very important differences between Charlie and Anson. The first thing we notice is that this is someone who’s stopped drinking. That is such an obvious fact that it’s almost embarrassing to point out, but there it is. It is very important for Fitzgerald, who had a problem with alcoholism, that that should be the case, that this person has enough self-control to say no when it would have been so easy to say yes.

But more than that, that is actually just the manifestation of something being different, is that he has one very important person in his life. And what is interesting is that this is actually not a romantic interest.  What is missing in Anson Hunter’s life is a child.

And we know that Fitzgerald himself had said many things about his daughter, Scottie, that it broke his heart to think that when Scottie grew up, that his novels would no longer be in print. He said that about The Great Gatsby.  We do know that Fitzgerald had a personal knowledge of what it means to have a child and to think about the future in terms of the future of that child and wanting to share a future with that child. I think that that actually is what gives him a future.

So we’re actually very close to the world of To Have and Have Not, which is the future appearing by virtue of the mediation of someone else. In this case, it is not Harry’s wife, Marie, who enables that future, an affirmative future, to take shape. It is not his wife but his daughter, Honoria.

His future is defined in this way – today, I’m going to give her some things; tomorrow, I’m going to give her a lot more things. It’s the pleasure of being able to give his daughter a lot of presents, that is what makes him work hard. He’s very, very good at his job making tons of money. He’s trusted by his employers. It is all of that that’s giving him a certain kind of relation to time.  In that way, I think both Hemingway and Faulkner are sort of implicitly present in the story. It’s how do we get to stop being a social type? And how do we get to have a personal and a highly interestingly populated relation to the future? The future is not any good unless it is populated by something.

And in this case, Charlie’s future is very much revolving around his daughter. And that is because of the way it is populated that he wants to get to that future. If it’s not populated, you might not even want to go there. You might want just to stay where you are. But if is it’s populated in such an interesting way, he does want to go there, and he wants to go there with her.

This is the main difference between Charlie and Anson. And what is also interesting is it enables him to think about his wife, Helen, who died in very difficult circumstances when they were reconciled, but not really. It was not a good marriage. It was through the mediation of his daughter that he’s able to think about his wife, whom he had probably wronged in some sense.

But she’s dead now. There’s no way for him to right that wrong.  The only way he can right that wrong that otherwise would have been permanent is once again through the mediation of his daughter.  A mediated personal identity, and a mediated relation to the future. And so these are the two stories that I should say that they have a lot in common in terms of the narrative structure of the stories. Because even though it’s a happy ending for Charlie, because the future is going to happen so slowly, it’s a very slow happening, slow pace, incremental emergence of tomorrow. He’s going to give money to his sister-in-law. That’s the implication that’s how he would get his daughter back. He’s going to pay for everything to get his daughter back. He’s going to give his daughter lots and lots of presents.

All of that is going to happen one day after another. There’s not going to be a dramatic change in his life. It’s strictly incremental. But because it is steadily incremental, we know that his distant future will actually be significantly different from the today.

Chapter 6: Social Type and Large Scale Drama in “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” [00:30:42]

But neither of those stories, would I say, neither is really dramatic.  Let’s turn now to the other side of the narrative spectrum, two stories that are very, very dramatic, and one advertising the drama in the title, “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.”

We know this is probably the most famous short story by Fitzgerald, and I would encourage you to discuss in section whether or not that is indeed your favorite story.  It’s certainly unforgettable. This off-the-charts deviation from an extreme type rich boy and drama on a large scale, obviously. The catastrophe at the end of the story, tomorrow is going to be different today.

But let’s just look at the way Fitzgerald proceeds to talk about this very extravagant world that really truly is nothing like the world as we know it.

“St. Midas’ School is half an hour from Boston in a Rolls-Pierce motorcar. The actual distance will never be known, for no one except John T. Unger had ever arrived there save in a Rolls-Pierce, and probably no one will ever again.”

This is on the same page as “never having eaten in a cheap restaurant inParis.”  That is the norm. The norm itself is very, very extreme. It’s the most expensive boarding school in the world, it’s unheard of for anyone to go there and not owning a Rolls-Royce or Rolls-Pierce.  This is the baseline, a very high baseline.  But even on that high baseline, Percy is still a deviation. It’s an extreme deviation from a type that is already extreme.   And one measure of that deviation is the kind of car owned by the family.

When they got toMontana, John sees that there’s this luminous disk that’s coming at him. He has no idea what that is. “Then as they came closer, John saw that it was the tail light of an immense automobile, larger and more magnificent than anything he had ever seen. Its body was of gleaming metal richer than nickel and lighter than silver, and the hubs of the wheels were studded with iridescent geometric figures of green and yellow. John did not bear to guess whether they were glass or jewel.”

I just want to stop for a moment and talk about a possible paper topic that would be perfect for the paper that is ten pages, which is the automobile in Fitzgerald and Faulkner. We know that Jason can’t stand the smell of gasoline, that he has terrible headaches because of his relation to the gasoline.  It’s a very interesting take on cars on Faulkner’s part, and we know that Fitzgerald certainly dramatizes and turns Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce into a surreal car, a mythic car. Here, he’s coming back to that.

Using the car as a concrete point of entry, we can actually talk about very large structures in both Faulkner and Fitzgerald. To what extent is the Rolls-Royce an emblem of Gatsby? We also know that they saw another car with two black men and a black woman in a car driven by a white chauffeur. That’s part of the story as well. That’s the configuration.  We can use the very concrete object, a very well-defined object, the car, and talk about the symbolic constellation revolving around that car.

In the case of Fitzgerald, definitely it would be a social landscape, the Jazz Age.  In the case of Faulkner, it actually has to go back to the relation between the nineteenth century and the twentieth century – the horse as a relic of the nineteenth century being played off the automobile.  Using the car, you can write a great paper that would be very specific and that would move from a small focus to a large argument.  I would encourage you in writing your papers to think of similar structures. Start from something extremely well-defined and then move on to something larger.

But in any case, as we can see, actually, Fitzgerald is really fascinated by the relation between cars and race.  The car is memorable in here, in this story, “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” And it turns out that it also has a very important racial dimension. We know that the black characters are still slaves in this story. And they were originally brought from the South, and they had always been in the possession of the family.  This is what happens to this black slave.

“All these Negroes are descendants of the ones my father brought north with him. There are about 250 now. You notice that they’ve lived so long apart from the world that their original dialect has become an almost indistinguishable patois.”

And he goes on to say that he actually trains a few of them just to speak English so that they can communicate with the rest of the world. But all of the rest, the 250 of them, actually speak a patois, or a dialect, that has no relation or is so far removed from English that it would not be a recognizable language to English speakers.

In itself, this is almost like a little local allegory for the relation of this particular family, theWashingtonfamily, and the unsustainable relation between today and tomorrow. You can’t keep on in the middle of the United States speaking a language that is supposedly English that really has no relation to the English spoken by everyone else. It’s just not a viable way of living in the United States. Thinking that you’re still speaking English when yours isn’t recognized as English by anyone else is not a sustainable linguistic relation.

And it’s also an unsustainable relation between this one closed world that wants to remain closed and the rest of theUnited Statesthat is dynamically expanding and also trying to integrate all locales into a national grid.  This is what happens when we notice that there’s one important aspect of theWashingtonfamily that is clearly not going to last forever. And this patois is not going to last forever. It’s going to die out. It’s going to be contaminated by the living English language. That this is going to die out, what else is going to die out about the family? What else is going to die out about this particular setup, this closed world that fantasizes about being closed forever?

And we see very soon that in fact the end is going to come faster than we think. It only takes a few pages, really, for the end to arrive, and it’s drama on a very, very large scale indeed.

“Simultaneously, and with an immense concussion, the chateau literally threw itself into the air, bursting into flaming fragments as it rose, and then tumbling back upon itself in a smoking pile that lay projecting half into the water of the lake. There was no fire. What smoke there was drifted off mingling with the sunshine, and for a few minutes longer, a powdery dust of marble drifted from the great featureless pile that had once been the house of jewels. There was no more sound, and the three people were alone in the valley.”

The ending in many ways is not surprising. It’s a very interesting combination. On the one hand, it’s highly dramatic. On the other hand, there’s an element of predictability to that drama. We almost know that some catastrophe is going to happen at the end of the story.

I think Fitzgerald is actually very comfortable with that kind of combination, high drama, but with almost no suspense. We know almost from the very beginning that probably something very, very bad is going to happen at the end of the story. And we also know from the very desolate landscape at the end of the story that the tomorrow is going to be totally different from the today within the story.

Chapter 7: Reversion to Type and Small Scale Drama in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” [00:40:35]

So I have to confess that I like this story a lot, but I actually like drama on a smaller scale. So “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” is actually my favorite story among the Fitzgerald stories. And I hope that you’ll see why. It’s about reversion to an original type and an unknown future.

Fitzgerald, I think, really liked the story as well – this is the story that is featured on the cover of the collection of short stories Flappers and Philosophers. And if the word “flapper,” if that doesn’t ring a bell right away, this is an image of the very famous flappers of the 1920s, people who bobbed their hair and wear short skirts, show their legs, and so on.  The flappers.

You guys know that the story is really about someone who’s becoming a flapper. Bernice is – she has, in fact, cut off all her beautiful hair, tons and tons of hair, has it cut off. But it turns out that that’s exactly the wrong hairdo for her. She’s “ugly as sin” after that, and her beaus stop– her beaus lose all interest in her. And she has one person to thank, her cousin.

This is what happens to the person that she has to thank. Her cousin, Marjorie, is sleeping, and this is what happens to Marjorie when she’s asleep. “Bernice deftly amputated the other braid, paused for an instant, and then flitted swiftly and silently back to her own room. After a minute’s brisk walk, she discovered that her left hand still held the two blond braids. She laughed unexpectedly, had to shut her mouth hard to keep from emitting an absolute peal. She was passing Warren’s house now, and on the impulse, she set down her baggage, and swinging the braids like pieces of rope flung them at the wooden porch, where they landed with a slight thud. She laughed again, no longer restraining herself. ‘Huh!’ she giggled wildly. ‘Scalp the selfish thing!’”

In one sense it’s no big deal. Hair will grow out. Bernice’s hair will grow out. Marjorie’s hair will also grow out. So cutting off somebody’s braids is not like the end of the world, as it is in “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” But still it’s an interesting kind of drama. And what makes the drama especially interesting is the fact that Bernice actually uses the word “scalp,” which is a word not used in the twentieth century. It goes all the way back to the nineteenth century, eighteenth century. It had to do with a Native American practice.

In order to understand this odd use of language, I think that we need the help of another sociologist and anthropologist, very well known, one of the most important thinkers, really, in the late nineteenth century extending into the twentieth century.   Many authors— including Zora Neale Hurston – studied with Franz Boas atColumbia.

Franz Boas had an interesting argument about human types as well. And it turns out that he is turning the notion of type on its head. And this is what he says in 1911. “When, for instance, it is claimed that certain types of Europeans show better mental endowment than other types of Europeans, the assumption is that these types are stable and cannot undergo far-reaching changes when placed in a new social or geographical environment. An investigation of this problem shows that the assumption of an absolute stability of human types is not plausible.”

Franz Boas says that, OK, it looks like– on the face of it, it looks like there are different types of human beings. And yes, when we look at human faces, there really are different human types, clearly undeniable. But he doesn’t think that there’s any permanence to those types, that in fact, even though you might be born into one type, when you’re put in a different social or geographical environment, that type actually gets radically modified.

It is very much an argument about the importance of environmental input and the way it can change your initial genetic makeup. And to prove his point, Franz Boas actually became a performance artist. So this is Franz Boas dressed up as an Inuit– otherwise known as Eskimo– to show that, yes, a Caucasian man can look just like an Inuit. And here he is dressed up or not dressed up at all as a Native American and proving that, yes, a Caucasian can look like a Native American.

There is no permanent social type, no permanent biological or genetic type. There’s the constant shifting of boundaries among those types as well as the possibility of the person of one type taking on the identity of another type.  I think that that is the context for understanding the very odd use of the word “scalp” on the part of Bernice. And it turns out that Fitzgerald has actually prepared us for that development. Much earlier in the story, when they were actually just talking about– Bernice is being totally dull and having nothing interesting to say and just sitting around all day and doing nothing and being totally boring. When they were talking about her in that context, Marjorie actually has this interesting theory, that maybe Bernice is so dull and boring and submissive because she’s just like one of the Native American women.

“ ‘I think it is that crazy Indian blood in Bernice,’ continued Marjorie.”

When Marjorie is saying that, making that observation at that point, she’s merely joking that Bernice might be like the Native American women.  But it turns out that it’s truer than Marjorie thinks.  Yes, Bernice has some Indian blood in her, but what she resembles is not the Indian woman but the Indian warrior.  And that is really what’s coming out in that dramatic amputation of Marjorie’s braids.

So the language, of course, is mock-heroic. It is using the language of high drama to talk about something that really is a very small incident. But nonetheless, it’s a very interesting story, and it’s the only story where we don’t know what the future is going to be. That Bernice has done this thing that is out of character, we just don’t know what the future will hold for her, whether she will keep on this path, that this is just the beginning of a new career and a new personal identity for her, or whether she would revert actually back to the quiet, submissive type that she was before.

This is the only story, I think, where we truly don’t know if the tomorrow is going to resemble today. And it has to do partly with that very unexpected reversion to an original type.  The least we can say is that Fitzgerald is someone who really plays on all the possible permutations of social types. I can’t think of anybody more inventive or having more to bring to that kind of permutation.

We’re done with Fitzgerald, and on Thursday, we’ll move on to Faulkner and As I Lay Dying.

[end of transcript]

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