This essay explores the effect of color in different short stories and poems.
Color Symbolism in Short Stories
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.