86 pages 2 hours read

Jacqueline Woodson

Harbor Me

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2018

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Symbols & Motifs


Hair symbolizes the complexities of Haley's identity and story, and it is referred to throughout Harbor Me. Her diverse racial identity is signified by the fact that her hair is both bright red and kinky. In a literal sense, Haley's complex identity is visible to the outside world, sparking the nickname “Red” that people like her uncle and Amari sometimes call her. Haley's hair does much more than physically suggest her identity, however. In some ways, her hair is responsible for a chain of touchstone events in the discovery and acceptance of her personal history. For instance, shortly after Haley and Holly became friends, Holly’s mom Kira approached Haley’s uncle offering to do Haley’s hair because her uncle struggles to handle it. Later, it turns out that Kira knew Haley’s mother before Haley was born, and that acquaintance helps Haley piece together a sense of what her mother was like.

Haley’s awareness of her hair also signals her acceptance of her identity and personal story as Harbor Me comes to a close. Near the end of the school year the ARTT group spends together, Amari draws each of his friends as superheroes. His superhero version of Haley prominently displays her hair as “a mass of curly red wires that seemed to be shooting electricity” (164).