The Hair Hoarder

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I am quite surprised that I am announcing that my blog post this week will not be about Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Since enrolling in Readings in the Genre:  Horror, I've been eagerly awaiting the two weeks which were to be devoted to reading The Picture of Dorian Gray.

However, after reading the assigned companion stories for this unit, I find myself eager to discuss "The Head of Hair" by Guy de Maupassant.  The key question I want to explore in this post is, "Did the hair really become the woman?"

At the very end of "The Head of Hair," the narrator who explores the case of the madman feels "the powerful temptation of something both disgusting and mysterious" (Maupassant 307).  This, for the first time, makes the reader realize that the plait of braided hair is more than just an instrument of a madman's delusions.  There is something mystical about this hair.

The Hair Hoarder, as I will call the madman, was a bit of an odd duck from the moment we first read about him in his diary.  We notice that he has more love for antique furniture than any woman.  We also see that he's afraid of death.  He says, "I am fascinated by the past and terrified by the present, because all that the future holds in store is death.  I long for everything that has already happened, I weep over those who have already lived.  If I could, I would stop the passage of time" (Maupassant 301).  This makes us, of course, doubt his sanity when the braid seems to spring to life.

Did the Hair Hoarder will this braid to life?  Did he make his own dreams come true?  Did obsession and want create this woman who was "tall, blonde, slightly plump, with cold breasts and hips shaped like a lyre?"  If he did, would he have imagined her with cold breasts?

Yet, when we realize the power of the braid through the man who observes the Hair Hoarder in his padded room, we begin to think that the hair might actually have sprung to life.  Would a man, fully aware that he was oddly obsessed with a lock of hair, be fooled by his own imaginings of a real woman?  Would he make up this blonde, buxom woman?

I'm still not sure about this.  Did Maupassant describe a specter that haunted men through a lock of her hair?  Or was he talking about one crazy man who fell in love with hair, who also happened to meet another crazy man who felt oddly attracted to this same lock of hair?

 

Guy De Maupassant, "The Head of Hair." (1884). From The Dedalus Book of French Horror. Ed. Terry Hale. England: Dedalus Books, 1998. 299-307.

36 Comments

Matt Duvall said:

I also liked the way the ending was open to interpretation. I wondered if Maupassant was not making a statement about the value of art? It seemed like the crazy man was more in love with things than with people--I'm thinking particularly of how it describes him caressing the dresser, much like you would another person. Perhaps the narrator was shuddering at the end because he could sense how easily one can fall in love with "art" and neglect "reality"?

Mike Arnzen said:

It's quite a story, isn't it? The man is clearly a fetishist, but your point about his fear of death nicely explains his psychology. Perhaps the woman represents his wish for immortality (through the past -- imbued with fantastic life) mixed with the barely-repressed death that it harbors. This "uncanny ambivalence" is everywhere in the genre, once you start looking for it.

Great, weird, stuff.

Rhonda Jackson Joseph said:

I think maybe the hair did have mystical properties that only special people were sensitive to. The doctor seemed immune to its powers, maybe because he was a scientific (factual) man as opposed to a sensitive (artistic) one. Then again, this artistic sensitivity could have simply lent itself to a creation in which the hair came to life.

Pretty interesting, either way.

Jordan Lutz said:

I don’t believe the narrator was crazy, delusional, or at all like the madman. The power of suggestion is a terrible thing, and by reading the madman’s transcript, it opened the door to the thoughts of a ghostly woman, which might have possibly never entered his frame of thought beforehand. I wonder if the narrator would have had the same response to the lock of hair prior to reading the manuscript. As the doctor said, “The mind of man is capable of anything,” (Maupassant 307).

Alex Sauer said:

I think that the madman created this reality of his, due to the fact, that he “longed for everything that has already happened” and he wept “over those who have already lived” (Maupassant 301). He was so obsessed with the past and not moving forward that the tress of hair gave him a human quality of the past, rather than a stationary antique in his home. I believe the narrator was not affected by it, but rather it gave him a chill, like if you were to find a relic at a battlefield and held it in your hand.

M. Caitlin Spaliding said:

It is my belief that this man clings to antiques such as furniture because he is envious of their immortality. I will bring you back to Mrs. Duvall’s reference to the text where the madman says he is “fascinated by the past and terrified by the present, because all that the future holds in store is death. I long for everything that has already happened, I weep over those who have already lived. If I could, I would stop the passage of time" (Maupassant 301). Being a man living in fear of death is certainly arduous and can drive a man to such madness.

Julian Martin said:

What I had thought before was that the crazed man might have lacked love with a woman, and replaced it with the love of material things such as the “mysterious head of hair”, in order to fill in the empty gaps in his life. In that, the night the “woman” came to visit, it could have actually been who he imagined the “head of hair” belonged to.

Raven Harris said:

In the beginning of the story, it is clear that the “madman” is very intrigued by art and antiques. He says himself that he is obsessed with the past and fearful of the future. This may cause the reader to have preconceived notions that question his sanity. It would be easy to think that he could just imagine the woman coming back to life. The only problem with that idea is that the narrator was also enchanted by the hair by the end of the anecdote. “And I sat there, my heart beating with disgust and desire, disgust as at the contact of anything accessory to a crime and desire as at the temptation of some infamous and mysterious thing” (page 6). This raises the idea that the hair did have some supernatural power, but maybe it was a power only those with an open mind could feel.

Austin Keenan said:

I found the story to be very intriguing indeed. The narrator analyzing the “hair hoarder” through the diary claims to have envy for the man, as he described through his remarks at the end of the passage. “I shuddered as I felt its delicate caress on my hands. And there I stood my heart beating with revulsion and envy…” (307) Also, I am curious of the doctor’s last statement on how “The mind of man is capable of anything.” Is this Maupassant’s way of stating that the woman was a result of delusion, rather than an enigmatic specter?

Brystol Whittemore said:

I believe that the man was crazy. The women that he saw could not have been physically there. He was obviously in a state of altered consciousness to be seeing this woman. I realized that he was crazy since he shared his obsession with the piece of furniture.

Brittani (Brit-taun-ee) Farrell said:

I believe the hair fascinated and entangled the madman. Since he never knew real love, things/possessions are where his love goes. Also, his deep fear of death could have worked with his only love, possessions, to create something within his mind that was immortal and belonged to him, the woman. As for the narrator, he was simply reacting to holding the source of the madman’s insanity.

Joshua Edwards said:

If you take the scientific approach you can simply say that the hair cannot become a person. If you look back into the ancient day in Egypt you will come to see that many of the mummified bodies still to this day have hair in the casket with them, or still attached to their scalp. Also, you say that his sanity is doubted due to his love for fine furniture and his pessimistic outlook on life. What is in store for us in the future, no one knows there is only one thing you can guarantee, and that is death. If you look back in time or even in the present, people become so obsessed with a possession that it begins to project life like energy, people have been known to make their self believe a whole scenario off of one piece of evidence. For instance, Schizophrenics do this daily; a perfect example is the movie “A BEAUTIFUL MIND”

James Drelick said:

I agree that the man in the story had a fetish with antique furniture. The man’s obsession may have led him to believe that he could connect with the previous owners of the furniture. Thus when he found the tress of hair he imagined a woman to accompany the hair. The doctor who shrugs his shoulders and says, “The mind of man is capable of anything” is the hint that it might all be in his head.

Andrew Michael Altman said:

I am tempted to side with the notion that the woman was created within the mad man’s imagination. When pondered, did the Hair Hoarder will his braid to life, I believe so. A man who loves things, “…for one does love things…” (Maupassant) must be terribly lonely. The mad man must have tricked himself into believing she was real, as man is certainly capable of when one is persistent enough in lying to themselves. “The mind of a man is capable of anything” (Maupassant).

Chelsea Simonson said:

In response to the question you presented, “Did the hair really become the woman?” I would have to say no, the man made it all up in his mind. First of all, in the beginning, this man is referred to as a madman who was attracted to the past because his fear of the future was terrifying. Because of the quote “The mind of man is capable of anything”, my interpretation is that this “madman” created his own idea that this tress of hair was attached to this beautiful woman from the past. I think it was just his yearning to have a form of human life from the past, rather than a piece of dormant furniture. After all, if he wouldn't have found the secret compartment containing the tress of hair, he would have continued to treat the piece of furniture as if it were a human. However, after finding the tress, he realized since it once was a part of human life, he could bring that life back from the past. I think it was all a part of his untamed imagination and desire for life from the past.

Walker Ross-Fudge said:

I found it interesting that at the end of the blog you mentioned that the deranged character might have found a person that may have found that same lock of hair mysteriously attractive. While I was reading the text I had thought that the narrator might have shared the love and desire for the “woman of the hair” that the patient was seeing and constantly desiring, but I had thrown out the idea at the end after the doctor’s comment. I still think that the patient was more say obsessed to the point of a mental manifestation of a woman in his mind to meet his desire to see what woman the hair had come from and why the hair was in the piece of furniture he had purchased, more say than a spirit of the hair compelling him to think it was a gentle, loving, and eloquently beautiful woman. In the end I would not have thought to look at the story the way you have, but your questions have jarred my theory and have caused me to think more about this “piece of hair”.

Carrington Edwards said:

In my opinion, I believe that the mad man made the illusion of a woman coming back to him through a lock of hair with his mind. Having an interest in someting, in his case furniture, is not a unusual thing. People have a deep interest in a lot of things, and it eventually becomes a hobby. "As I was wealthy, I bought all kinds of old furniture and old curiosities, and I often thought of the unknown hands that had touched these objects, of the eyes that had admired them, of the hearts that had loved them; for one does love things!" The idea of a woman coming back to life through a lock of hair, is imaginary. He builds this idea up everytime he touches the hair. I believe he replaces this hair for the absence of a woman in his life. The mind is an amazing thing, and he builds it up so much that it becomes real to him. "The mind of man is capable of anything."

Morgan Carroll said:

Was all of this in the head of that man? I believe that it was because he was obsessed with the entire collection of objects that he owned, not just that tress of hair. He had a special connection to the Italian furniture that he bought also. Because of these close relationships that he had with the objects, he began to imagine that the hair may have formed the woman. However at the end of the story the doctor remarked, “The mind of a man is capable of anything.” I believe that this quote is exceptionally accurate. I think that it is impossible that the woman came alive. That is why that my speculation is that the image is all in his head.

Stormy Jane said:

I side with the all-too-common notion that the man is indeed mad, and imagined this woman because he was compelled to find love of another kind, love for a woman, instead of a thing. As he said, he loved things, "...for one does love things..." (Maupassant) and when he found the lock of hair in the antique he loved so much, an opportunity to finally love something, someone, presented itself. So he jumped on the opportunity, all too enthusiastically, and loved this lock of hair, and eventually, this imagined woman, which deeply haunted and disturbed him.

Brooke Arnold said:

I must say I found the story both very interesting and quite disturbing. This madman has a clear case of some mental disease; his unwavering and slightly disturbing admiration of his furniture reveals that early on. Also, the fact that he fall in love with the braid of a dead woman, and in turn the woman herself, proves that he does have a case of Necrophilia. Now, did this woman come back to life or was it the man’s imagination at play? I believe it could be a combination of the two. She is described in such detail that one would assume that a specter, perhaps residing within the hair itself, was involved. However, it seems very unlikely. This man is clearly mentally unstable and could have just thought her up detail enough to seemingly bring her into reality. Perhaps his unstable mind believed this delusion he created with such force that she was indeed pulled into reality as a specter. As the doctor says at the end of the story, “The mind of man is capable of anything.”

Xavier James Porteus said:

Though I truly agree, I’m not so sure that he was obsessed with antique furniture. I believe he is in love with the old, beautiful, and the young dead. Mr. Creeper, seems to have some severe necrophilia, and does not know how to deal with it. At the end of the story, the doctor makes a statement, "The Mind of Man is Capable of Anything", I believe that this was a clue to the fact that, Mr. Creeper’s obsession, had started to corrupt him greatly, even more than he had already been, he became obsessed and started to love a non-living rope of hair. He slept with it, thinking it was her, he kissed it (almost losing consciousness), and he swore that she had come to him. This may be from lack of sleep, or lack of water, remember he was extremely obsessed, he may have forgotten to do some things. Heed this warning, do not place non-living objects over your own life, you may very well crack up like Mr. Creeper.

Jerit Barton said:

The man truly was a man who had no love life except for the love of the past. He states, "Until I was Thirty-two I led a quiet existence and I had never been in love" (Maupassant 300). Natalie Duvall has a point in questioning the man’s sanity and labeling him as the "Madman," says, "I am fascinated by the past and terrified by the present, because all that the future holds in store is death. I long for everything that has already happened, I weep over those who have already lived. If I could, I would stop the passage of time" (Maupassant 301). "Would a man, fully aware that he was oddly obsessed with a lock of hair, be fooled by his own imaginings of a real woman? Would he make up this blonde, buxom woman?" (Duvall)
The "Madman" fears death and yet contradictorily falls for a lock of hair from a dead woman and better yet he makes love with the idea of her. Clearly the woman was a figment of the imagination of this lonely thirty-two year old man, but he changes his perspective on life when he went from a quiet existence to going out in public with the lock of hair as his wife. It can also be concluded that he is still in love with the past because the lock of hair is from the past and he still fears the present because he is not looking forward to the future which all in all leads to death. The woman is a symbol of the man himself his whole life has been nothing, but a mere existence in the world and finally he found a treasure, the head of hair the glory of his life, his passion, and his love. Natalie Duvall asks, "Or was he talking about one crazy man who fell in love with hair, who also happened to meet another crazy man who felt oddly attracted to this same lock of hair?" It can be interpreted that the thing that led both men to feel a power or connection to this tress of hair was temptation. The "Madman's" temptation was the past, while the narrators temptation was not the hair itself, but the danger it possessed to the one who had it he envied the idea of an insane man being able to have what he wanted. An example for this is “I stood, my heart beating with revulsion and envy- revulsion because I knew that I was handling something steeped in crime; envy because I could feel the powerful temptation of something both disgusting and mysterious." (Maupassant 307)

Arman Asemani said:

I believe that "obsession and want" created this woman who the man described in great detail because the madman had no previous interactions with women. The man lives in the past. Although he has never experienced true love, he says "'I am possesed with a longing for women of former days.'" His "longing" for the women of yesterday may have encouraged his attachment to a strand of hair whose owner is deceased, and led to the madman falling in love with a fantasy woman who does not exist.

Mariah Johnson-Skibber said:

“Would a man, fully aware that he was oddly obsessed with a lock of hair, be fooled by his own imaginings of a real woman? Would he make up this blonde, buxom woman? (Duvall). In reality would a blonde tress of hair defy the rules of the universe? Would an insane man’s opinion and untamed imagination actually be considered to be fact? A man, who is obsessed with antique furniture, petrified of death and has and tremendous attachment to the past is fearful to move on with life into the future for fear of becoming part of the past. I do not believe the tress of hair became a woman: it is a figure of the man’s imagination. He is trying to subdue his life so he will never reach the future which is inevitably death.

Amela Hunter said:

I believe the narrator was intrigued by the madman's diary, just as anyone would be if they read it. However, unlike Natalie Duvall's eager focus on the madman's interest in antique furniture or his fear of death; I would like to focus on the fact that a “madman” would keep a diary. It was as if he knew exactly what he was doing, and perhaps he was not a madman at all. “…Then they threw me in prison as if I were a common criminal..They have taken her away from me!...And now I am so miserable!” (Maupassant 306). Possibly, the Hair Hoarder was expressing his grief of the loss of his once passionate love. I believe the “madman” was not acting on insanity but, utter sorrow and anguish.

Kat Minerva said:

The final line of the text sums up my interpretation of the tale; “The mind of man is capable of anything,” (Maupassant 307). No, this tress of hair did not turn into a woman; this man was simply a victim of his own mind and imagination. As the text suggests, the madman became highly attached to the Italian furniture, “I was forever opening the doors and drawers, handling it with sheer delight, savouring all the intimate joys of possession,” (Maupassant 302), however it could not fulfill a natural desire of being loved back, or shown affection. Nevertheless, he preferred the love towards possessions possibly because of the immortality they had. Imagining a woman coming back from the dead through this possession would completely satisfy his psyche.

Crystal Lovelace said:

Ms. Duvall poses the question “did he make his own dreams come true”? This question I have been pondering for several minutes. A man that is deserted and terrified of death to me capable of becoming a man of imagination. One who looks only at the past must have a problem facing reality and also lack true emotions if he admires a piece of future more than any women. He shows signs of true unstableness.

Elizabeth Kassmieh said:

I am simply baffled on what way I should approach this situation. Scientifically, yes, the man was considered crazy, delusional and an outcast of society, however one hundred years ago if a person spoke about having the technology we obtain today would they not be considered identical in mental traits and questionable sanity? As the power of the mind overtakes his body and controls his actions certainly his love of antiques and the mysteries they wheeled can be played into this situation. He found a lock of hair in an antique, in a secret compartment nonetheless, that would intrigue anyone, but arouse his thoughts and let them wonder, he’s letting them wonder to the point where wondering became the only thing he was capable of doing. The lock of hair and the “ghost” it attracted to him could be a symbol of his fear of death. “I am fascinated by the past and terrified of the present.” (301) A possibility to unlocking the mysteries could be within that quote, he could be so terrified of his own unknown he could be forcing his mind to think of this ghostly apparition to satisfy his curiosity into knowing that there is life after death in the approach of looking at an enigmatic figure lurking about, haunting him, making him obsessed and crazed seems like a childish thing to believe in, but sometimes children are the wisest of us all. Why can’t a ghost be haunting this man? Just as the doctor said “A mans mind is capable of anything.” That can be taken within either approach, it does not state that he is a delusional man nor does it state that he summoned a ghost through a lock of hair. Science and ignorance has blocked us from the mysteries of the world, it’s time to stop being blinded by the wool of society, look around and see the doors that are possibilities, open them, and experience the events that most only imagine. At this moment time will not tell, but when his time comes, it will certaintly speak.

Amela Hunter said:

I believe the narrator was intrigued by the madman's diary, just as anyone would be if they read it. However, unlike Natalie Duvall's eager focus on the madman's interest in antique furniture or his fear of death; I would like to focus on the fact that a “madman” would keep a diary. It was as if he knew exactly what he was doing, and perhaps he was not a madman at all. “…Then they threw me in prison as if I were a common criminal..They have taken her away from me!...And now I am so miserable!” (Maupassant 306). Possibly, the Hair Hoarder was expressing his grief of the loss of his once passionate love. I believe the “madman” was not acting on insanity but, utter sorrow and anguish.

James Stankunas said:

"'The mind of man is capable of anything'" (Maupassant 307). The way Maupassant chooses to end the story answers the question for me. The deceased woman, who the hair belonged to, did not come back to life. It was all in the mind of the 'hair hoarder'. As you stated, the reader is initially given the impression that this man is crazy due to his enigmatic characteristics, which is inferred through his journal. This information can lead you to believe that he is a creative story-teller or he is, in fact, a madman. Either way, the woman coming to life is extremely implausible. In the journal, he writes, "One night I suddenly woke up convinced that I was not alone in the room" (Maupassant 305). The man was clearly asleep, and had just woken up. Therefore, we are not sure if he was dreaming or not. Regardless, when someone wakes up, they are not aware of their surroundings at first, and they have to take a moment to regain conciousness. The man goes on to question himself in the journal if the dead come back, and then answers his own question with, "The dead do come back! She has come back... Yes, I possessed her, every day and every night" (Maupassant 306). Looking into context clues, it can be inferred that he is, indeed, talking about the hair itself. The woman did not come back alive because she was not with him 'every day and every night'. The hair, on the other hand, was in his possession all the time, and it gives him the illusion that the woman has come back to life. The question that I have still remains: Was the man actually crazy or was he merely a storyteller at heart?

Julio Ramirez said:

The Hair Hoarder seemed to be crazy. Mrs. Duvall points out, "We notice that he has more love for antique furniture than any woman" (Duvall 1). This man had been in love with his antique furniture. I believe that he preferred material things rather than to be with a human being. A piece of this writing that interersted me was that the mad man was afraid to die and lived with the past instead of the future. In this writing she supports that with this statement."We also see that he's afraid of death" (Duvall 1). This mad man had some issues. I can agree with those who say that the Hair Hoarder was imagining things and the belief that the hair had come to life is just a delusion.

Raven jo-Elizabeth Shaylee Autumn Soboleski =] said:

The question that Mrs. Duvall brought up was one that I actually had while reading this story. "Did the hair really become the woman?" I think to find the real answer to this question you would have to consider the metal state of this madman. I personally believe that to
him the braid of hair did turn into the woman. As Maupassant said in the story “The mind of a man is capable of anything”. Clearly this madman has an infatuation with objects of the past. To me I do not think that it was the actual braid of hair that he was in love with, it was the woman he fantasized the hair belonged to. He was in love with the feeling he got when he would rub the hair against his own skin, the deep obsession with the hair when he was away. I believe that it was his feelings of deep infatuation and love for this "woman" who belonged to this hair caused him to invent the ghostly hallucinations of her.

Alan Wolff said:

“The hair hoarder” as you would call him is mentally incapable of depicting real life scenarios. He has what psychiatrists call, necrophilia and also is supported in the text by “He would seem to be afflicted with some form of erotic obsession akin to necrophilia.” (299) It highly supports the facts that he had some sort of mental illness that could have led him to believe that he saw what was "tall, blonde, slightly plump, with cold breasts and hips shaped like a lyre?" his image of a perfect lady. Since he had an obsession of necrophilia could support the reasoning why she had “cold breasts” When someone dies their core temp leaves the body hence the saying “they are as cold as death itself” which death itself makes him sexually aroused. Perhaps he saw a plump woman because, and I can’t recall the time period but in that era if wealthy men and women had some fullness to their frame, leading me to another conclusion that he was delusional and imagining it. Like the doctor stated in the end of the short story “The mind of man is capable of anything”, this can also be shown better supported by people in the desert that see false images shown of their greatest desire, water. Therefore, “the head hoarder” was delusional and saw the image projected in his brain as a perfect woman for him.

Jennifer Anderson said:

I agree that he was in fact a madman, and that his love of art over the love of reality contorted his psychological mindset. I believe his love for art combined with his fear of reality, “I am fascinated by the past and terrified by the present because all that the future holds in store is death”; his fear of death keeps the line between fact and fiction very blurred for him (Maupassant 301).In the text it says, “Truly for eight days I worshipped this piece of furniture.” He may have believed that the lock of hair then became a woman of flesh and life, however It is just his imagination. In the blog he question is raised of, “Would a man, fully aware that he was oddly obsessed with a lock of hair, be fooled by his own imaginings of a real woman? And I truly believe the answer is yes, one can be fooled by his own imagination.

Daniel Rodriguez said:

Would a man, fully aware that he was oddly obsessed with a lock of hair, be fooled by his own imaginings of a real woman? The man who was oddly obsessed with the lock of hair was imagining a real woman. He believed that she could come back to life. He thought of the hair as a supernatural thing “…as though something of the women’s soul remained within it.” (Maupassant 303). He believed she was still in the hair. “And I waited, for what I do not know, but I waited. For her” (Maupassant 305). He has been waiting for something to happen so one night as he lay in bed he imagined her to be real.

Alan Zunun said:

I believe the woman attached to the tress of hair is a figment of this madman’s imagination. His fondness for antiques and this piece of hair turns into his obsession. He awoke in the middle of the night needing the tress of hair’s presence close by his side. At the end of the story it also states that a man’s mind is capable of anything. Though this woman once lived, I believe her actual presence exists only in his imagination. I found this story to be a bit sinister yet it has powerful message; focus on reality, not the dreams that exists only in your own mind.

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