The colour and the shape

A friend of mine recently e-mailed me the logo that he’s designed for his new business – Cuculo, an Italian delicatessen, which unfortunately I can only parse as a Spanish person with a stutter trying to say the word “arse” – and although the design was great, the choice of colours made me pause: he’d chosen a kind of mid-blue with yellow detailing…and that, to me, didn’t say “Italian deli”.

This made me think about the psychology of colour. The idea that different colours symbolise different things is well known, and it pervades our culture (although different cultures have different interpretations of the same colour). Similarly, inevitably, it pervades our literature.

  • In The Lord Of The Rings, whereas Gandalf the Grey is a covert, cabalistic string-puller content to watch and influence from the shadows, the reborn Gandalf the White is a leader, a battlefield general, a kingmaker (contrast this, however, with the White Witch of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe…)
  • In One Hundred Years Of Solitude several characters attempt to paint the Buendía house red or blue, whilst Úrsula keeps it painted white…these colours refer to socialism, fascism and political balance within Colombia.
  • In Midnight’s Children the colours black and green feature prominently, most notably in protagonist Saleem Sinai’s dream of Indira Gandhi.

So, is the use of colour in literature a subtle symbolism or simply a visual cliché? Pretentious writers like me are taught to avoid cliché, but it seems to me that the use of colour as a way of quickly recalling a certain mood or emotion is a cliché, albeit an acceptable one.

I suppose the key is that, as with so many literary devices, it all depends on the writer.

In other news, I broke 40,000 words this week on As Yet Untitled Novel


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