The Breadwinner


Deborah Ellis

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Hair Symbol Icon

Hair, Parvana’s in particular, represents both Parvana’s changing identity and her dreams for the future. At the beginning of the novel, Parvana mentions that she has to cover her hair with her chador at all times, per the Taliban’s orders; her inability to show her hair mirrors her powerlessness under the Taliban. She also describes her sister Nooria’s hair as gorgeous and silky, and the narrator notes that Parvana would like to have hair like Nooria’s—in this instance, Nooria’s hair represents a beautiful version of femininity that Parvana aspires to. However, when Mother and Mrs. Weera ask Parvana to cut her hair so she can pose as a boy, Parvana discovers that whereas her long hair trapped her, having her hair cut short frees her. With her hair short, Parvana can see a future that offers her agency and choice, something she didn’t get with long hair that she was required to cover.

Hair Quotes in The Breadwinner

The The Breadwinner quotes below all refer to the symbol of Hair. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of The Breadwinner published in 2014.
Chapter 6 Quotes

“You’re not cutting my hair!” Parvana’s hands flew up to her head.

“How else will you look like a boy?” Mother asked.

“Cut Nooria’s hair! She’s the oldest! It’s her responsibility to look after me, not my responsibility to look after her!”

“No one would believe me to be a boy,” Nooria said calmly, looking down at her body.

Related Characters: Parvana (speaker), Mother (speaker), Nooria (speaker), Mrs. Weera
Related Symbols: Hair
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

“It has to be your decision,” Mrs. Weera said. “We can force you to cut off your hair, but you’re still the one who has to go outside and act the part. We know this is a big thing we’re asking, but I think you can do it. How about it?”

Parvana realized Mrs. Weera was right. They could hold her down and cut off her hair, but for anything more, they needed her cooperation. In the end, it really was her decision.

Somehow, knowing that made it easier to agree.

Related Characters: Mrs. Weera (speaker), Parvana, Mother, Nooria
Related Symbols: Hair
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

When she had gone into the market with her father, she had kept silent and covered up her face as much as possible. She had tried her best to be invisible. Now, with her face open to the sunshine, she was invisible in another way. She was just one more boy on the street. She was nothing worth paying attention to.

Related Characters: Parvana, Father
Related Symbols: Hair
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Breadwinner LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Breadwinner PDF

Hair Symbol Timeline in The Breadwinner

The timeline below shows where the symbol Hair appears in The Breadwinner. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...Parvana wouldn’t have so many trips if she’d done it yesterday and flips her beautiful hair. Parvana grumbles as she hauls buckets up the stairs. No one helps her with her... (full context)
Chapter 6
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...that Parvana will wear Hossain’s clothes. Parvana says this won’t work since she has long hair, but Nooria pulls out the sewing kit and snaps the scissors open and closed. Parvana... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...says that this has to be Parvana’s decision. They can force her to cut her hair, but Parvana has to be willing and able to play the part in the market.... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon a different person as her forehead gets bigger and her ears stick out. Her hair curls, and the short cut makes her eyes look bigger. Parvana decides she has a... (full context)