The Giver Questions and Answers
by Lois Lowry

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What do girls' hair ribbons stand for in The Giver?  Where and when do they appear in The Giver?

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The hair ribbons girls wear are an indication and symbol of their youth.  They reinforce conformity.  Girls wear them until age Nine.  Girls must wear them at all times, and they are specifically mentioned in Chapters 2, 3, 6 and 13.

Lily complains about the hair ribbons.  When her mother fixes them, she tells her she can tie them herself.  Lily’s ribbons are always untied.

"I know that," Mother replied, straightening the hair ribbons on the little girl's braids. "But I also know that they constantly come loose and more often than not, they're dangling down your back by afternoon. Today, at least, we want them to be neatly tied and to stay neatly tied." (Ch. 6)

There are several symbols of a child’s age, and everyone is alike.  For example, the clothes the children wear vary by year.  As they get older, the community symbolizes the children’s growing independence with hair and wardrobe changes.

Hair indicates a child’s age for boys too.

Jonas never found the Ceremony of Ten particularly interesting- only time-consuming, as each child's hair was snipped neatly into its distinguishing cut: females lost their braids at Ten, and males, too, relinquished their long childish hair and took on the more manly short style which exposed their ears. (Ch. 6) 

With everyone looking alike and dressing alike, the community reinforces Sameness.  Sameness means that no one is different, so no one is uncomfortable.  Everything is carefully regulated so that there are no choices about anything.  If children chose whether to wear hair in ribbons or not, then some would look different.  Therefore, there are rules that everyone wears ribbons.  They also must be properly tied. 

Not complying with the community’s rules or not being neat results in public shaming.  For example, if Lily’s ribbons are untied the Speaker may make an announcement to the whole community.  Even if Lily is not mentioned by name, everyone will know who the speaker is talking about.

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