Essay on Funnyhouse of a Negro: The Meaning of Mother as Connected to the Symbolism of Hair

Although much of the dialogue and monologues in Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro are abstract, repetitive, and contradictory, certain images and notions have definite symbolic meaning in the contrived rooms of Sarah’s mind.

First, the notion of maternal love and approval is very important. Sarah pities her mother, blaming her father for her mother’s death. She constantly refers to her mother as looking “like a white woman” with “hair as straight as any white woman’s.” The fact that her mother had straight hair like a white woman becomes very important to Sarah, whose hair is kinky (the only real feature that gives her away as being mulatto). Sarah’s mother loses her hair after she was raped by her husband. The loss of her distinctly white feature represents her mother’s loss of purity, as in Sarah’s mind, everything that is white is pure. She, herself, can never be as pure as she was before she was born because her black father tainted her birth at conception.

Sarah was a reminder of her mother’s impurity and vies for some way to gain her mother’s approval. In this respect, she is like her father who adored his own mother, but was condemned by her for marrying a white woman instead of going to Africa and being the savior of his people. He later confides to Sarah that he failed at both ends by betraying his mother and sending Sarah’s mother to the asylum. He described it as, “…the race’s hair fell out because he left Africa…” Once again, the loss of their hair is the loss of their cultural identity.

Sarah’s hair also begins to fall out as she struggles with her identity, feeling that she should have been born white, yet that hair will give her away to all of her white friends. She identifies with the way they will mistrust her as she mistrusts herself. In Sarah’s mind, the only way to redeem herself is to bludgeon her father with an ebony head. By killing the black, her mother’s lightness will be rekindled, which is what her mother longed for. And her mother will smile at her again.