There was no settled, shocked moment when she first thought of killing herself; it seemed to her as if the idea had always been with her.
Mrs. Morse occupies a dark, morose space with very few distractions. The maid Nettie does the cleaning, the cooking, the errands while she sleeps till afternoon and then prepares herself for night life. Glamour no longer resides here, but convenience does. She has become little more than a convenience herself.
It is a shriveled, shrunken life–from her apartment to the chop house, to the tavern and back again–that is all about recuperating from the night before, the upkeep of the outward appearance and, more than anything else, the illusion of vigorous spontaneity. She must be frivolous, silly, accommodating, available at the drop of a hat–everything her benefactors wives are not.
In this environment she loses track of how many men there have been; they come and go. Some she likes, others she doesn’t which is neither here nor there as long as her bills are paid.
Then one day on her way to the tavern to meet Art, her current “friend”, she sees a sight that shakes her to her core:
…a big, scarred horse pulling a rickety express wagon crashed to his knees before her. The driver swore and screamed and lashed the beast insanely, bringing the whip back over his shoulder for every blow, while the horse struggled to get footing on the slippery asphalt. A group gathered and watched with interest.
When she breathlessly tells Art why she is late for dinner and upset, he doesn’t want to hear it.
“What’s the idea of all the bellyaching? What have you got to be sunk about?…Pull yourself together will you? Come on sit down, and take that face off you.”
But this time she can’t outrun the shakes or numb them either. Later at her apartment she examines vials of sleeping pills she’s been hoarding and her reflection in the mirror.
“Well, here’s mud in your eye,” she said.
Big Blonde is a cautionary tale. Like all literary works with a capital L it is multifaceted.
Within in its approximate twenty pages, Parker explores a life steeped in alcoholism even before the catalytic onset. Hazel Morse is not an organic alcoholic if, indeed, one even exists. She becomes one while trying to medicate herself in the presence of problem drinkers and alcoholics. For them any infraction or malady is cured with another shot and some laughs.
Early in the process she uses alcohol as a means to loosen up, to make herself lively and uninhibited at the behest of her husband Herbie. She finds it does more than that. It evaporates her depression. It allows her to be what others want her to be, to win their approval, so she drinks more. But of course her relief is only temporary and so is her marriage.
At first glance it is easy to assign Herbie Morse the villain of Big Blonde, but a longer look puts him in a less glaring light. Herbie has been played by his wife. He never asked for traditional domesticity of the day, of house slippers laid out and supper on the table when he gets home. Instead he wants her “dolled up” and waiting for them to go out on the town. He wants her to be fun, like she’s always been and when she’s not, when at first, she slips into one of her moods, he is concerned.
At first, when he came home to find her softly tired and moody, he kissed her neck and patted her shoulder and begged her to tell her Herbie what was wrong. She loved that. But time slid by, and he found that there was never anything really, personally, the matter.
This is Hazel’s fatal flaw. She always opts for the easy way. It’s not that she’s not legitimately, yes, even organically depressed. She is. And, yes, depression was misunderstood in those days, as it still is (but especially then); the crux of the problem is that Hazel is not above using her mental illness as a means of getting what she wants, which is to be forever babied and pampered on her own terms. And Herbie is not that guy.
As is almost always the case in tragedy, the protagonist is his/her own worst enemy. Hazel Morse is a classic example of this device. She enters into an ill advised contract with herself with no gun to her head. Willingly, she will never come into her own; she will sacrifice her self respect, her sexuality, morality, ambition and happiness (the superego, if you will) at the alter of convenience and self indulgence. Therefore, it is not Herbie, or the many men who enter into this contract of destruction with her that are villain, nor is it the serpent alcohol, but it is Hazel Morse herself that is the architect of her demise.
And, even in that, she ends up failing herself.