‘For Heidi With Blue Hair’ by Fleur Adcock is a six-stanza poem that uses action and dialogue to paint a literary picture where little to no physical setting is provided. Rather, the important notions are in the characters’ actions and words. What is garnered from those details is that a young girl named Heidi lost her mother, and while coping with that loss, she “dyed [her] hair” in a manner that her school did not approve of. In response, Heidi found support through her father and friend, commenting on the strength in having a loved one’s support and the “solidarity” found in numbers. This could be noted as the theme of the poem—that those on the outside of a person’s primary circle may not know the most intricate parts of a person’s life, but those who do know can change that person’s world through ongoing support and unity. You can read the full poem here.
For Heidi With Blue Hair Analysis
First and Second Stanza
When you dyed your hair blue
(or, at least ultramarine
was, apart from anything else,
not done in the school colours.
Although the identity of the person being described in ‘For Heidi With Blue Hair’ is not given within this stanza, more information is provided in regard to who Heidi was. Specifically, the reader can know by the end of the first stanza that she was a student who “dyed [her] hair blue…for the clipped sides,” but “with a crest of jet-black spikes on top.” This combination was certainly something that would stand out, so the action had to be undertaken with the knowledge that the change would be noted by others. Still, Heidi embraced the change and went to school.
Heidi, though, was “sent home from school” because of this unusual hair color since “the headmistress” said the “dye” was “not done in school colours.” That reason, however, reads like a search for an excuse rather than a concrete rule. The second stanza states that “dyed hair was not specifically forbidden,” which indicates “the headmistress” simply did not care for the alteration, but realized the rationale she delivered for her criticism was not solid enough to stand without a defensive statement to support it—like blaming the “school colours” in a manner that cannot help but feel trivial.
In essence, the reader can move away from these two stanzas with the knowledge that Heidi had “dyed [her] hair,” and “the headmistress” seemed determined to make a large issue of the decision.
Third and Fourth Stanza
Tears in the kitchen, telephone-calls
to school from your freedom-loving father:
Tell them it won’t wash out –
not even if I wanted to try.
The third stanza of ‘For Heidi With Blue Hair’ leaves the setting of the school for the scene that happened in the home once Heidi returned, and that scene is one of emotion and outrage. For Heidi, she cried “[t]ears in the kitchen,” ones that flowed from “[her] eyes, also not in school colour.” This reference to the rationale of “the headmistress” for “send[ing Heidi] home” is subtle, but it is still a harsh sting directed toward the school. Even though Heidi came home, her rebellion continued because she still did not embrace those “school colour[s].”
On a more vulnerable note, however, this comment stands as an insistence that her separation from the school system ran deeper than a choice to change her hair. There is no indication that she wore contacts or employed any other cosmetic tactic to change her eye colour, so if the issue truly was her lack of embracing the “school colour,” Heidi would never would been suitable for the school because her natural appearance broke from the established “colour.” Furthermore, this concept echoes the irrationality of presenting the “colour” choice of her hair as the problem by pointing out that her natural eye “colour” did not fit with the school’s mold either. If the hair colour needed to reflect “school colour[s],” essentially, why was it okay that her eyes were different? In this one situation then, layers of commentary exist in regard the school controversy.
Beyond this one detail, the reader also learns the father defended his daughter by calling the school to inform them that it was not, in his estimation, a statement of ill behaviour, but “just a style,” as though changing the “colour” was too superficial to cause tension at school.
Right after the father’s dialogue, Heidi’s commentary is provided in a way that hints she was speaking to her father as he was on the phone with the school. During her dialogue, Heidi instructed her father to “tell them it won’t wash out,” which would be a fitting directive if given while her father was conversing with the school. The reader can actually envision the scene, though little detail is provided about the physical setting, with the father holding the phone, but looking at his daughter as she cried and offered her pleas through her father.
Fifth and Sixth Stanza
It would have been unfair to mention
your mother’s death, but that
an act of solidarity, a witty
tease. The battle was already won.
In the fifth stanza of ‘For Heidi With Blue Hair’, the reader learns the heartbreaking truth of Heidi’s change—that she lost her mother—but no one at the school asked why there had been a change in Heidi’s behaviour. Regardless, that loss “shimmered behind the arguments,” as if its importance could not help but radiate in the circumstance even though no one bothered to address it.
It is interesting, though, that the narrator insists that using the loss as an explanation “would have been unfair to mention.” Considering the frustration the father could have felt for the school, he might not have cared if he were “unfair” toward them by providing such a shocking and impacting detail. Rather then, the reader can assume he felt offering that information “would have been unfair” toward his daughter who potentially would not have wanted so many people to be aware of her recent trauma. This is a level on which to sympathize with Heidi since she carried pain that she quietly shouldered.
Once the father pleaded his case, the school “gave in” because they had “nothing else against [Heidi],” which further insists the rationale for disciplining Heidi was not concrete. Already, it was established that labeling the “school colours” as the problem felt defensive, and the father insisted on the phone that he and his daughter “checked the rules” regarding the hues. That the school had no room to further push the matter speaks to the stretch of regulation that was employed in disciplining Heidi.
What follows in the sixth stanza is a visual of solidarity in “a witty tease” when one of Heidi’s companions altered her hair to reflect “the school colours precisely.” Given that the school’s criticism of Heidi’s hair resided only in its variation from those “school colours,” this action was a moment of subtle mockery, as if the students knew the problem did not rest in “the school colours” at all, but in the general notion of altering hair so drastically. By toeing the line the school provided, but still walking outside of the line the students knew was actually the problem, this moment challenged the school in a way that they could not argue against since their own logic backed them into a corner that the “tease” did not technically contradict. Since the contradiction to the stated rationale was not present, the school could not discipline the student, despite the underlying and unspoken qualms. Essentially, “[t]he battle was already won.”
The strength of the situation stemmed from those in Heidi’s life who knew her well enough to understand her situation, while the confrontation came from those who never knew what she was dealing with. From that, in this simple story, the reader can see that knowing a person’s situation can help to shape the understanding of that person, and strength can come from honest care among companions.
About Fleur Adcock
A 20th-century poet from New Zealand, Fleur Adcock studied at the University of Wellington and went on to become a teacher, a librarian, and a writer whose simplistic style has been noted in the literary world. She has been honored with several distinguished titles and acclamation, including receiving the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. She has also been credited for her editing work, and she married fellow poet, Alistair Campbell, in 1952.