Why does Jo March cut her hair in Little Women?

Quick answer:

Jo cuts her hair in order to sell it for twenty-five dollars. She gives the money to Marmee, who is going to Washington where Mr. March has taken ill. Jo considers the money her way of contributing to "making father comfortable, and bringing him home."

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Jo March cuts her hair to make money from selling it to be used for wig making. She earns twenty-five dollars for it, a great deal of money for the period, even though the barber who cut her hair was reluctant to buy her reddish-brown locks, as the color is not considered fashionable. She gives the money to Marmee, who is going to tend to their father, who has fallen sick in Washington. She considers it her "contribution towards making father comfortable, and bringing it home." She wants to support her family in an honest way and without asking to borrow money from Aunt March, so selling her hair seemed as good an option as any.

Jo's decision requires a great deal of nerve on her part. In the nineteenth century, short hair on women was not yet a fashionable choice as it would be in the early decades of the twentieth. A woman's hair was a symbol of her femininity and beauty: to cut it deliberately or lose it would have been seen as a tragedy. The shock of the other March women reflects this social more. Even Jo herself cries a little that night in mourning for her lost hair; she does not regret helping her sick father, but she still feels the sting of having short hair in a culture where long locks are considered a woman's glory.

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