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Girls under the age of nine wear hair ribbons as part of Sameness, and Nine-year-old girls take them out as a sign of maturing.
When children turn nine in Jonas’s community, the girls remove their hair ribbons. All children in the community have the same hair styles and the same clothing. Sameness is very important to Jonas’s people. They believe that all people should dress alive, follow strict rules regarding language, and look as much alike as possible. Every step in childhood is controlled and measured out.
Hair ribbons are worn at the end of braids for eight year olds and younger. Hair ribbons are a bit of an annoyance for Lilly, who has trouble untying them herself, and gets chastised for having them come untied. She is therefore relieved when she gets to remove them when she becomes a Nine. All children in the community age on the same day, at the ceremonies. This is when they get their new ceremonial clothing and make any other transformations, such as in hairstyle.
"I don't like hair ribbons. I'm glad I only have to wear them one more year," Lily said irritably. "Next year I get my bicycle, too," she added more cheerfully. (Ch. 6)
The hair ribbons are so important that a child can actually be publicly chastised in the community by the speaker for failing to have them tied perfectly.
ATTENTION. THIS IS A REMINDER TO FEMALES UNDER NINE THAT HAIR RIBBONS ARE TO BE NEATLY TIED AT ALL TIMES. (Ch. 3)
Jonas worries that such an announcement might happen to his sister, because her hair ribbons are constantly untied. He has been the recipient of public warnings, once taking an apple home after watching it mysteriously change color.
By removing the hair ribbons and giving the girls, and other Nines, bicycles, the community is demonstrating the growing maturity of children who will be given quite a bit of responsibility by the age of twelve.
Why is it so important in the community that all of the little girls of a certain age dress alike? It is strange to us, of course. However, to Jonas’s community, Sameness is very important. You can tell how old a little girl is because she wears ribbons. Nine year olds don’t. Before the age of nine, they do. It keeps things consistent and the same. It gives them a sense of control. Removing the ribbons shows the people that the girl is starting to mature. They will always be reminded of what they are working toward.
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