The Cutting of my Long Hair
Zitkala-Sa's "The Cutting of my Long Hair" provides an insightful and informative
account that elaborates on the experiences of Native American children when they were
forced to join American boarding schools. The succinct short story portrays the lives of
Native American children in the new schooling world. Through her mastery and command of
English, Zitkala-Sa successfully paints major themes to her audience. Readers of “The
Cutting of my Long Hair” can confirm that the short story reveals cultural assimilation,
resistance, and resentment as the consequences of forceful enrolment of Native American
children to conventional American boarding schools.
On her first day, the narrator discloses that she was astonished by the new culture in
her school. The narrator is stunned by the sight of small Indian girls that have completely
adapted to the new environment. It was shocking to see small girls that 'seemed not to care
that they were even more immodestly dressed” (Zitkala-Sa 1). The author successfully
portrays the consequence of cultural drift and assimilation, courtesy of Indigenous American
children’s enrolment to boarding schools.
Secondly, the effect of resistance is seen when the narrator seems determined to
refuse anybody from cutting her hair. When Judewin, the narrator’s friend, confides that their
hair will be cut, the narrator rebelled saying that she ‘will not submit’ and she ‘will struggle
first’ (Zitkala-Sa 2). Although the narrator’s efforts eventually prove to be futile, the effect of
resistance is overtly portrayed in many episodes. In the entire story, the narrator seems to be
against the conventional American boarding school system.
Lastly, the effect of resentment is explicitly drawn in the author’s concluding
paragraph. To explain the futility of her efforts to fight against her hair being cut, the narrator
confesses that she later ‘lost her spirit’ (Zitkala-Sa 2). The narrator further acknowledges that
when ‘her long hair got shingled like that of a coward’, she ‘aguishly moaned for her mother’
but ‘no one came to comfort her’ (Zitkala-Sa 2). These confessions prove that due to their
new environments and cultures in boarding school, Native American children ended up
To conclude, it is evident that the adverse effects of forcefully enrolling Native
American children into boarding schools include the involuntary conformity to new cultures,
resistance and resentment attitudes. The effects portrayed in Zitkala-Sa’s short story are
representative of many others experienced by Native American children.
Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Bonnin). "The School Days of an Indian Girl." The Online Archive of
Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings. Ed. Glynis Carr. Online. Internet. Posted:
Winter 1999. http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/gcarr/19cUSWW/ZS/SDIG.html.
THE CUTTING OF MY LONG HAIR
From the mid-1880s to the 1930s, the thrust of American Indian policy was to assimilate Native Americans into
the larger society. Boarding schools for Native American children became a common strategy for inducting
children into white culture. Zitkala-Sa, or Red Bird, was a Sioux from the Yankton Reservation in South
Dakota. In a series of articles for the Atlantic Monthly in 1900, she described her experiences at a Quaker
missionary school for Native Americans in Wabash, Indiana, which she attended from the age of 8 until 11.
The first day in the land of apples was a bitter-cold one; for the snow still covered the ground, and the
trees were bare. A large bell rang for breakfast, its loud metallic voice crashing through the belfry
overhead and into our sensitive ears. The annoying clatter of shoes on bare floors gave us no peace.
The constant clash of harsh noises, with an undercurrent of many voices murmuring an unknown
tongue, made a bedlam within which I was securely tied. And though my spirit tore itself in struggling
for its lost freedom, all was useless.
A paleface woman, with white hair, came up after us. We were placed in a line of girls who were
marching into the dining room. These were Indian girls, in stiff shoes and closely clinging dresses. The
small girls wore sleeved aprons and shingled hair. As I walked noiselessly in my soft moccasins, I felt
like sinking to the floor, for my blanket had been stripped from my shoulders. I looked hard at the
Indian girls, who seemed not to care that they were even more immodestly dressed than I, in their
tightly fitting clothes. While we marched in, the boys entered at an opposite door. I watched for the
three young braves who came in our party. I spied them in the rear ranks, looking as uncomfortable as
A small bell was tapped, and each of the pupils drew a chair from under the table. Supposing this act
meant they were to be seated, I pulled out mine and at once slipped into it from one side. But when I
turned my head, I saw that I was the only one seated, and all the rest at our table remained standing.
Just as I began to rise, looking shyly around to see how chairs were to be used, a second bell was
sounded. All were seated at last, and I had to crawl back into my chair again. I heard a man's voice at
one end of the hall, and I looked around to see him. But all the others hung their heads over their
plates. As I glanced at the long chain of tables, I caught the eyes of a paleface woman upon me.
Immediately I dropped my eyes, wondering why I was so keenly watched by the strange woman.
The man ceased his mutterings, and then a third bell was tapped. Every one picked up his knife and
fork and began eating. I began crying instead, for by this time I was afraid to venture anything more.
But this eating by formula was not the hardest trial in that first day. Late in the morning, my friend
Judéwin gave me a terrible warning. Judéwin knew a few words of English; and she had overheard the
paleface woman talk about cutting our long, heavy hair. Our mothers had taught us that only unskilled
warriors who were captured had their hair shingled by the enemy. Among our people, short hair was
worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards!
We discussed our fate some moments, and when Judéwin said, "We have to submit, because they are
strong," I rebelled.
"No, I will not submit! I will struggle first!" I answered.
I watched my chance, and when no one noticed I disappeared. I crept up the stairs as quietly as I could
in my squeaking shoes,--my moccasins had been exchanged for shoes. Along the hall I passed, without
knowing whither I was going. Turning aside to an open door, I found a large room with three white
beds in it. The windows were covered with dark green curtains, which made the room very dim.
Thankful that no one was there, I directed my steps toward the corner farthest from the door. On my
hands and knees I crawled under the bed, and cuddled myself in the dark corner.
From my hiding place I peered out, shuddering with fear whenever I heard footsteps nearby. Though in
the hall loud voices were calling my name, and I knew that even Judéwin was searching for me, I did
not open my mouth to answer. Then the steps were quickened and the voices became excited. The
sounds came nearer and nearer. Women and girls entered the room. I held my breath, and watched
them open closet doors and peep behind large trunks. Someone threw up the curtains, and the room
was filled with sudden light. What caused them to stoop and look under the bed I do not know. I
remember being dragged out, though I resisted by kicking and scratching wildly. In spite of myself, I
was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair.
I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of the scissors against my neck,
and heard them gnaw off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. Since the day I was taken from
my mother I had suffered extreme indignities. People had stared at me. I had been tossed about in the
air like a wooden puppet. And now my long hair was shingled like a coward's! In my anguish I moaned
for my mother, but no one came to comfort me. Not a soul reasoned quietly with me, as my own
mother used to do; for now I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.
Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Bonnin). "The School Days of an Indian Girl." The Online Archive of
Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings. Ed. Glynis Carr. Online. Internet. Posted: Winter 1999.
Cause/Effect Essay Scoring Rubric
______ Organization (12 points maximum; 2 pts. each)
Paper is written to an assigned story for the course.
Paper has a meaningful introduction with enough detail (4+ sentences).
Has strong, clear thesis statement end of intro stating 3 causes or effects.
Has at least 3 supporting paragraphs with 4 sentences minimum in each.
Conclusion is strong, revisits thesis, & provides perspective on causes/effects.
Paper’s final draft meets the MLA format (double-spaced, indents on
paragraphs, .6x.8 margins, name, class, paper, proper date format
in upper left; last name & page # in upper right corner).
______ Development (5 points maximum; 1 pt. each)
- All paragraphs provide strong support for the thesis (don't deviate).
- Essay has transitional words/phrases to indicate cause/effect connections.
- There is a minimum of 3 causes or 3 effects discussed (1 per paragraph)
each within a significantly detailed paragraph.
- There are at least three quotes with proper lead-ins; 1 in each paragraph.
- Uses proper MLA citations, & Works Cited entry is in proper MLA format.
_______ Mechanics ( 3 points maximum; 1 pt. each)
- Shows significant improvement from 1st draft (followed editing suggestions).
- Evident signs of proofreading (fewer than 5 spelling/grammar/punctuation.
errors) & good editing skills (complete, meaningful sentences & paragraphs).
- Written in third person; does NOT use I, we, us, our, you, or your &
uses accurate & present verb tense; uses affect & effect correctly.
_________ First Draft in on Time & Peer Edited (5 points max.)
_________ Score for Cause/Effect Essay Final Draft (20 points maximum)
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