Twice in the novel, young lovers exchange locks of hair as signs of their affections. Marianne gives Willoughby a lock of her hair, and Lucy gives Edward a lock of hers, which he keeps in a ring. These locks of hair are symbols of affection and intimacy. By keeping a loved one’s hair, Willoughby and Edward keep a part of their beloved with them at all times, remaining in a sense close to their respective women even when they are separated. But if these locks of hair are symbols of close affection, they are also symbols of the unreliability of such feelings and the difficulty of reading romantic intentions. When Marianne and Elinor see Edward’s ring, they both think that the hair is from Elinor, and mistakenly see it as proof of his attachment to her. And Marianne’s hair given to Willoughby, a sign of permanent love, is returned to her after Willoughby abandons her. In the end, as tokens of affection, locks of hair are unreliable: in fact, both relationships involving exchanges of hair fail (Edward and Lucy’s, and Willoughby and Marianne’s). The only real guarantee of a lasting love is marriage, sought desperately by most of the novel’s characters. Unlike a lock of hair, a wedding ring may be the only true symbol of a permanent romantic relationship.
Locks of Hair Symbol Timeline in Sense and Sensibility
The timeline below shows where the symbol Locks of Hair appears in Sense and Sensibility. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...to Elinor, but Elinor was not so certain. Margaret said that she saw Willoughby cut a lock of Marianne’s hair to keep. Elinor could not deny that it seemed likely Willoughby and Marianne would get... (full context)
...letter from Edward and Elinor recognized Edward’s handwriting. Lucy mentioned that she had given Edward a lock of hair that he kept in a ring, and Elinor could have no doubts that Lucy really... (full context)