Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 966
In the traditional sense, the story has no plot with a tight climax and resolution. It is primarily a history, an extended portrait of “Big Blonde.” Hazel Morse, a big, fun-loving, peroxide blond, is a caricature. Amiable, empty-headed, given to tears at the slightest provocation, she is not so much a realistic character as she is a collection of traits and attitudes that the author holds up for satiric scrutiny.
She and her first husband, Herbie, begin married life isolated from any connections, utterly content with each other. Soon, Herbie—like Hazel, a collection of mannerisms, viewed by Dorothy Parker as a specimen—wearies of Hazel’s moods, her “misty melancholy.” When he can take no more, he slams the door, rushes out, and gets drunk. Once tender lovers, Hazel and Herbie (their names suggest Parker’s attitude toward them) become enemies. Whenever Herbie stays out late, Hazel worries; in time, however, her worry turns to anger, and she is ready for an argument when he returns. Soon, loud, violent quarrels are a regular feature of their marriage.
Hazel begins to drink, and soon all of her days run together. Sure that she is losing Herbie, she begins to frequent Jimmy’s bar, the haunt of “The Boys.” Mrs. Morse, as she is known at Jimmy’s, makes fast friends with a forty-year-old blond, Mrs. Martin; the two women drink together and enjoy the attentions of The Boys. One of them, Ed, from Utica and married for twenty years, plays poker with Mrs. Morse. His kisses lead the way to romance, and she becomes his “doll.”
One day, Herbie packs to leave for a job in Detroit; he offers his wife, foggy with drink, the furniture and some stock. After he leaves, Mrs. Morse (so Parker refers to her for the remainder of the story) plays her favorite recording, “Ain’t We Got Fun.”
Ed gives her presents and suggests that she move. She agrees because her relations with Mrs. Martin and Joe, Mrs. Martin’s boyfriend, are strained. Ed gives her a flat and a black maid, Nettie. Alcohol continues to keep Mrs. Morse fat; her moods keep her gloomy and melancholy.
At Jimmy’s, Mrs. Morse finds the women monotonously the same: big, heavy, ruddy, healthy. Most are married, some divorced, some have a child. However, they are cordial and friendly. The Boys enjoy the women, above all Mrs. Morse. She needs money, so she passively responds to Ed, who continues to buy things for her. Finally, however, he is bored by her fits of gloom. He needs fun; the other women at Jimmy’s are not so moody.
After three years with Mrs. Morse, Ed moves to Florida. He cries on leaving Mrs. Morse and gives her a check; she does not miss him at all, and each year when he returns to New York and rushes to see her, she remains passive.
A friend of Ed, Charley, has always liked Mrs. Morse, and now with Ed gone, he fills her life. She finds him “not so bad,” but after a year, she lets Sidney, “a clever little Jew,” take his place. Sidney likes her softness and size; with him, she feels lively and happy. Soon, however, he leaves her to marry a rich woman. Billy and Fred are next, but soon Mrs. Morse cannot recall how they came and went.
News comes that Herbie has a new woman, but Mrs. Morse is not moved at all. Several years have passed since she saw him; now, all the days blur together. One night, tired and blue, she sees horses stumbling and slipping, and she begins to think of death. With a drowsy cheer, she thinks “It’s nice to be dead,” and later she reads stories about suicides. In her drinking bouts, she has sudden intuitions of the nuisance of existing. She dreams all day of no more tight shoes, no more forced laughs, no more trying to be a “good sport.” Whenever the idea of suicide becomes tangible and immediate, however, she flinches.
A new man, short and fat, comes on the scene; when he whispers “You’re the best sport in the world,” Mrs. Morse tries very hard to feel something. One night at Jimmy’s with Art, she chats with a woman about insomnia and learns of a remedy: five grains of veronal. It can be purchased in New Jersey without a prescription. The next day, Mrs. Morse takes the train to Newark and easily buys twenty tablets of veronal. That night at home, she sends Nettie for Scotch; then, vaguely blurred, she goes to Jimmy’s, where she meets Art, who has told her that he will be away for a week. Thus, the glow of the Scotch turns to gloom; this merely irritates Art, who leaves, impatient, with “Try to cheer up by Thursday when I’ll be back.” She returns to her room and swallows slowly the twenty tablets of veronal. Waiting for death to come, she says, “I’m nearly dead”’ and chuckles at the words.
The next morning, Nettie the maid sees Mrs. Morse sprawled on the bed, making strange sounds. Nettie runs out and gets the elevator boy to run with her for a doctor. When the doctor sees the vials, he pumps out the drug, but Mrs. Morse remains unconscious for two days. When she wakes, she swears at Nettie, then apologizes. A pageant of sensations passes in her memory—Jimmy’s bar, horses stumbling, men saying, “Be a good sport.” Nettie gives Mrs. Morse a postcard from Art, urging her to cheer up for Thursday. Then Nettie and Mrs. Morse share a drink, with Nettie saying, “Cheer up now,” and Mrs. Morse replying, “Yeah, Sure.” Thus the portrait of “Big Blonde” ends.