"Hair" (Text Key 1895)

short story

"Hair" (1931) has complex roots in Faulkner's imagination. The girl Susan, along with her guardians Mr. and Mrs. Burchett, appear in one of his very first stories, "Moonlight," which was written some years earlier and remained unpublished until Joseph Blotner included it in Uncollected Stories (1979). The barber Hawkshaw is a central character in "Dry September," a story Faulkner was still revising when he began "Hair." But for this new story these characters are dramatically revised. "Hawkshaw," for example, turns out to be a newcomer to Jefferson, whose real name is Henry Stribling. The people of Jefferson call him "Hawkshaw," a slang term for "detective," because "that was the last thing in the world anybody would suspect him to be" (141). Nonetheless "Hair" is a kind of detective story, in which that role is played by many other characters, who try to solve the mystery of Hawkshaw's behavior. The chief investigator is the unnamed narrator, though his account relies on other men's testimony as well as his own research. And while he chooses to withhold most of what he learns from the townspeople, in the end his apparently privileged position is eroded by his ultimate discovery of what he doesn't know, hadn't imagined at all. Both these structual elements - the quasi-detective plot and the de-centering of the story's narrative perspective - connect this tale with many other Yoknapatawpha fictions, including such major works as Absalom, Absalom!

Susan's behavior in this story is another imaginative strand that readers of Faulkner's early fictions are familiar with. In the Twenties it was often a symbol of liberation for a woman to cut - or "bob" - her hair. For all the time that Susan spends in the barber shop, it's not clear that Faulkner wants us to place her in that context, but Susan clearly belongs in the gallery of promiscuous female characters - Joan Heppleworth, Caddy Compson, Temple Drake, Addie and Dewey Dell Bundren, and so on - whose sexuality occupies, even preoccupies a good part of the text. Those readers, however, might be just as surprised as the narrator by the ending of this young woman's story.

After several rejections, "Hair" was bought by H. L. Mencken's American Mercury magazine, where it appeared in May 1931. After several slight revisions, Faulkner republished it in These Thirteen (1931), his first volume of short stories. He included it again in Collected Stories (1950), where it appears immediately after "A Rose for Emily"; this version is the basis for our representation of the story.

Dating the Story: There are an unusually large number of specific dates in "Hair," especially in the Bible that the narrator sees at the Starneses, and quite a few other kinds of temporal references as well - "thirteen years ago" (137), "twelve years he stayed" (142), "two weeks ago" (136), and so on. But the narrative also contains irreconcilable chronological discrepancies, especially at the end, when the narrator says "last week I went to Division" on the same page where he says "it was three months" after that when the final scene takes place (145). Under these circumstances we chose to accept the Bible's written dates, and for the unwritten ones to work both forwards from them and backwards from the date of the story's publication (May 1931). By this reckoning Henry Stribling arrives in Jefferson, and is rechristened Hawkshaw, in the spring of 1918 - but in Faulkner's mind that might have happened a year earlier or later.

First Publisher: 
American Mercury
First Publisher Date: 
May 1931
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Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Cornell, Elizabeth, and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's 'Hair.'" Added to the project: 2017.  Additional editing 2019: Ben Robbins, Lorie Watkins.  Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

Associate Editors: