“Big Blonde,” a story of illusion and reality, avoidance and consequence, tells the tale of an aging party girl who makes a failed attempt at evading the truths of her life. Dorothy Parker’s incisive characterization and witty narration explore the social facades that mask loneliness and desperation. The story won the O. Henry Memorial Prize for best short story of 1929.
Hazel Morse is a big blonde. Like the other big blondes in her company, her life is an unremarkable stream of parties and men. Accepting unquestioningly that popularity is important, she strives to endear herself to many men. Hazel builds her external identity around an image—that of the good sport. At first it is easy, but gradually it becomes a matter of practice, for her to be cheerful and bubbly, carefree and gay. She begins to tire of the game and decides to marry, believing that this will enable her to discard the facade she had so carefully constructed. She soon learns, however, that the Hazel she presented at parties is the Hazel her husband wants her to be. When she ceases to be that Hazel, her husband grows disenchanted and leaves. Alone and without financial support, she falls into relationships with a variety of men, each expecting the jolly, compliant Hazel in exchange for their patronage.
Hazel cannot escape the consequences of the life she has chosen, nor can she escape recognizing the mistakes upon which those consequences are built. Her understanding...
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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...
(The entire section is 966 words.)
“Big Blonde” is generally considered Parker’s best and most serious story. Unlike her usual comic satire, this story opts for a third-person omniscient narrator, dispassionately yet ironically showing the decline of a “dumb blonde,” a “party girl.” The protagonist’s public persona is that of the fun-loving “good sport,” a big-busted, peroxide blonde who grows dependent on men’s attention. After she marries Herbie, she tries to be her inner melancholy self, crying much of the time. Herbie insists she play the role of the “good sport” and gets her to drink. Eventually Herbie leaves her, toasting her with one last drink, “Here’s mud in your eye.” “Haze” remains in a drunken haze and hooks up with Ed at a neighbor’s house because she feels financially and emotionally dependent. Eventually Ed leaves for Florida because Haze is always sad, and she then enters a series of affairs with a number of men. After her last lover, Art, tells her to cheer up by the time he gets back to town, she takes some sleeping tablets, saying, “Here’s mud in your eye.” The maid Nettie finds her and calls an elevator boy to get a doctor, and Mrs. Morse is saved. She shares a drink with Nettie, repeating, “Here’s mud in your eye.” Nettie tells her to cheer up, and Mrs. Morse replies, “Yeah. . . . Sure.” The last repetition of the toast and the idea of “cheering up” signal that Mrs. Morse will enter her vicious circle of hell again.