Distinction of Hair

I am intrigued by Aminatta Forna’s repetitive use of using the description of hair to introduce characters or allude to an aspect of their personality. The importance that hair can have became clear to me when Elias is reflecting on his individuality and being memorable. He explains;

“ I yearned to be remarkable, when in fact I was anything but. I have one of those faces, a face that looks like any other. With age you might say I have acquired a little distinction. The hair. ” (Kindle version 34)

This quotes shows that Elias longs to be recognized and seen as someone special however nothing about him distinguishes him from the crowd. His hair is his one characteristic that gives him individuality and uniqueness that could allow him to get noticed. Specifying that this distinction came about with age, suggests that the way other characters hair styles change throughout the book should be analyzed because with time and experience, the way a person is seen changes and aspects of their personality become clearer.

Forna shows this transformation with time by describing Saffia’s hair many times as the novel progresses. When Elias first becomes fixated with her but does not know her, he describes that “her hair [was] wrapped in a large orange scarf” (26). Having her hair hidden illustrates that her personality is very much hidden from Elias at this point but the word wrapped suggests to me that is can be unraveled. Yet why Forna chooses the color orange, I am unsure of. Do the smallest details of her descriptions also have larger meanings?

Hair is used to introduce many characters, like Vanessa in chapter 1 explaining that he did not like her hairstyle but it showed that she put a lot of effort into how she looked for Elias. He then mentions her hair again in chapter 4 when he is going on the double date and describes her hair as “spiky and dangerous-looking”(88). In the beginning Elias was not fond of Vanessa but appreciated and enjoyed how much she liked him and wanted to gain his affection. Once Saffia enters the picture, Vanessa is no longer someone enjoyable to have around but rather an obstacle to Elias’s happiness that he tries to avoid.

There are many examples and uses of hair in the beginning of the memory of love but I have chosen these two because they exemplify how hair is used to introduce characters but then as time passes, it helps distinguish the characteristics of each person. This topic deserves much further analysis than this blog post and could be examined in countless ways. For example, comparing the description of hair in Adrian’s story to Elias’s story or looking into what Forna really is trying to say about each character through their hair. Each word and each description are put into the story for a reason. Forna’s use of hair is a deliberate writing technique that needs to be closely examined to understand how each character is unique.


Posted on October 16, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi! It’s interesting that you chose hair as the main theme of your blog. According to your post, I got a sense of hair s as one of the most important beauty aspects for women (considering your post mainly focused on hair for women – Saffia and Vanessa). I think it is strongly related to a saying that woman’s hair is a crowning glory to herself. Referring to the biblical observation (1 Corinthians 11:13-15), hairs is used as a “covering” for women when they pray to God. Although Forna’s The Memory of Love does not talk specifically about religious lives of Saffia and Vanessa, a long-haired woman is usually characterized with tender-hearted personality, elegant, and good at taking care of their physical appearances. However, women with short hairs are often seen as tomboy, rude, and dangerous. Moreover, in accordance with the year when this novel was written, Saffir appeared as a character in the 1960s when it was pretty much still traditional and long hair was common among women in that era. Meanwhile, Vanessa is the woman of 2000s, and fashion has evolved into hundreds of different hair styles and colors, that she having short hair is often judged with negative personalities. That’s why I think hair is really significant to represent women from different decades.

  2. erika926nishihara

    I think you bring up an interesting point. I think it’s make sense that hair of each characters represent their characteristics. Hair can be a representation of identity, characteristics and the uniqueness of the characters because each people have different kind of hair and how hair looks can be somehow controlled by themselves. Thus, hair represents beauty of each characters. The Memory of Love depicts the sense of beauty of the people in Sierra Leone. The sense of beauty can be transformed throughout time as depicted in The Memory of Love. Since the stories of two different time period pass in this novel, the different depiction of hair may characterize the time period itself. Descriptions of hair are frequent in the beginning of The Memory of Love because the characteristics of hair introduce the identity of each characters.

%d bloggers like this: