Hairwoman is Melinda's English teacher, so named for the crazy hairdo that covers her face. Melinda seems to feel a mixture of pity and admiration for Hairwoman. Hairwoman really tries to make her class relevant for the students, and she often succeeds. At the same time, she's locked into one way of thinking about literature and gets all bent out of shape when challenged. For instance, Rachel earns the class extra homework when she argues that any symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter is an invention by readers, not by Hawthorne.
At the end of the novel, Hairwoman gets a sleek new hairdo. Melinda hopes it's a sign that Hairwoman is starting a whole new life.