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
“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.
“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.
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.