“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 of her circumstances is at first subverted by her own confusion: “Her days were a blurred and flickering sequence, an imperfect film, dealing with the actions of strangers. . . . She never pondered if she might be better occupied doing something else.” She falls deeper into the trap of posturings and pretensions, but certain realities nevertheless grow harder to deny; she wearies of always being accommodating and cheerful and begins to dwell on the things she must say and do to maintain her appeal. She hurries to banish these worries with alcohol. After a while, even the alcohol cannot blur the face of truth; she begins “to feel toward alcohol a little puzzled distrust, as toward an old friend who has refused a simple favor.” Hazel turns to suicide. When she is unsuccessful at permanently blotting out her painful existence, and can no longer retreat into a blissful alcoholic stupor, she realizes that truth is immutable and is compelled to face the dismal future wrought by her own hands.
Parker’s presentation of the conflict is drawn with bold strokes. Her economy with words brings a depth of understated emotion to the work and her trenchant commentary on Hazel’s world is sardonic and tragic.
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...
(The entire section is 2,636 words.)