I wrote my critical/close reading essay in order to gain a greater understanding of Chika Unigwe’s story, “Growing My Hair Again.” I was originally drawn to the title of “Growing My Hair Again.” Hair plays a part in individual identity, so I was curious about the story. The story is about an African woman’s need to shave her head after her abusive husband passed away. In her society, widows were required to mourn by shaving their heads. The main character, Nneka, did not want to shave her head since she disliked her husband. She looked forward to re-growing her hair and regaining her freedom. My inquiry question was, how could something as simple as hair growth help an individual acquire freedom? More specifically, how will Nneka’s attitude and identity change when her hair grows out? I asked this question because I realized that hair was a major symbol in the story, and I wanted to investigate how it would change Nneka’s life.
In Chika Unigwe’s story, “Growing My Hair Again,” the main character, Nneka, is shaved bald after her abusive husband passes away. Nneka is happy to be set free from the abuse, yet she is expected to mourn and willingly shave her head. Nneka looks forward to regaining her freedom by growing her hair. Towards the end of the story, Nneka planns to nurture and delight in the growth of her hair as it will allow her to see the new possibilities of her life. After reading this passage, I questioned how something as simple as hair growth could help an individual acquire freedom. More specifically, I wondered how Nneka’s hair growth would change her attitude and contribute to her identity. Nneka’s hair would officially free her from her husband and give her a sense of independence.
Nneka’s bald head symbolizes the fact that she is still controlled by her husband. By shaving Nneka, the women in her society point out the fact that she is a widow. She says, “In one word, [they] distill my life: widow…tonight I shall be given the badge of honor: a head so clean shaven that sunrays will bounce off of it” (75). The bald head serves as a badge of honor for Nneka’s dead husband. By growing out the hair, Nneka can declare her freedom.
Nneka explains that growing her hair will allow her to start a new life. When she decides to nurture and delight in the growth of her hair, she is able to see how her life will change. She says, “…[I] see my new life stretch ahead of me: a multi-colored wrapper infused with the scent of fresh possibilities…I shall regrow my hair” (80). The multi-colored wrapper of possibilities represents all of the opportunities Nneka never thought she would have, like running her husband’s boutique independently. Nneka mentions that she will consider starting another relationship, but first she will enjoy being alone. She says, “I am in no hurry. I shall savor my freedom first” (80). The concept of hair growth makes Nneka so happy that she loses control of herself when she is sitting with her mother-in-law, “My eyes meet those of my mother-in-law and I feel it coming. I do not even want to stop it: a laughter that comes from deep inside my belly and takes over my entire body” (80). Nneka laughs because she is able to acknowledge the new life that is ahead of her once she grows back her hair. By growing her hair, Nneka will be able to start a new independent life.
By performing a close reading, I was able to realize that hair growth gives Nneka a sense of freedom and the chance at a new life. Nneka’s bald head shows that she is still controlled by her dead husband. Growing her hair allows Nneka the opportunity to act as an independent woman. The hair also represents the other life changes that Nneka will experience such as running the boutique and dating again. After a close reading, it becomes clear that Nneka’s hair will officially free her from her husband and give her a sense of independence.