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Symbolism Through Color in Short Stories

This essay explores the effect of color in different short stories and poems.

Color Symbolism in Short Stories

and Poems

Both the short story “Clothes” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

and the poem “Oranges” by Gary Soto use the literary

strategy of color symbolism. The poem and short story are

similar in that they both use color to represent emotion and

transitions involving maturity. However they are different in

that the authors choose to use it in different ways and to

achieve different goals.

In “Clothes” the author uses color symbolism and analogy to

express the emotional changes that the main character is going

through and to anchor her to her Indian beliefs during her

transition from girl to women. The author gives many examples

of color that represent established Indian beliefs. For example,

the girl describes her bride-viewing sari as follows: “Its body was

a pale pink, like the dawn sky over the women’s lake. The color

of transition.” She talks about her preference for a certain color

of sari for her flight to America; “I wanted a blue one for the

journey, because blue is the color of possibility”. She also uses

color as an anchor to her previous life; for example, “I love the

color, the same pale blue as the nayantara flowers that grow in

my parent’s garden.” In this quote she is talking about her new

jeans but at the same time alluding to something back in India

and anchoring herself with this thought. Finally, she begins to

develop her own color connections when she decides to stay in

America after her husband dies. She wants to forge a new life for

herself. This is shown when she says; “She wears a blouse and

skirt the color of almonds the color of the earth and seeds.” This

connection may represent new growth and new beginnings.

These examples along with others in the story support the idea

that color represents the main character’s attempt to find a

sense of security in a time of great personal change.

In contrast, “Oranges” by Gary Soto uses color symbolism to

illustrate the main character’s emotions. In the poem he uses

light and fire and bright colors such as orange, yellow and red.

The color orange symbolizes the main character’s excitement

about taking out the girl, the possibility for bright and joyful

beginnings. Her “rouge cheeks” indicate that she is the focus of

his thoughts compared to the rest of the surroundings, which are

bleak and cold. It shows this when he says, “ December. The

frost cracking beneath my steps, my breath before me…her face

bright with rouge”. In this quote he states that all around him is

cold, and colorless except for things associated with the girl. Also

“making a fire with my hands” symbolizes hope, or the start of

something new and warm. These quotes and others show that

color expresses emotion and hope.

Both “Clothes” and “Oranges” use color to represent emotional

and maturity transitions but in different ways and to achieve

different goals. The different ways in which they use color

creates different moods in the stories. Also the magnitude of

these situations are far different. In the story “Clothes” the main

character has to travel to another continent, marry someone she

doesn’t know, leave her family, and live in a culture totally

different than her own. These are huge and nearly irreversible

life changes. Therefore, it makes sense that the author uses

color and analogy to develop a mood of desperation and

nervousness as the main character strives to find a sense of

emotional security during this time of great personal change.

Whereas in “Oranges” the author describes an incident that is of

relatively low risk. The boy in this poem is clearly nervous about

his first date. However, even if this date goes badly, he will still

go home to his parents that night, he will still be in the same

country, and his culture will not have changed in the slightest.

So the author could afford to create a mood that is brighter,

more hopeful and full of anticipation.

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