The Colors of Character

I have told you before that I am blessed with the mental quirk known as synesthesia. I get sensory impressions of things that they can’t possibly have, but my brain imposes them anyway. For instance, today is a Thursday, so it is a yellow-ochre day. You can’t actually see the colors of a day or a month, but I do. I have very strong impressions with crossed-up sensory input. Mondays are teal blue, except in the month of September which is sky blue, so they become a darker blue or indigo-color day every week. And this weird mental mini-illness also applies to fiction.

For example, the character of Atticus Finch, the lawyer and father of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird comes across to me as a beige character. He represents a hero who struggles to do what is essentially right in a difficult situation. He faces raising Scout and her older brother Gem in a time and place where racism and vindictiveness are often dominant, and fairness and a sense of equity is often lost in the face of those problems. Hence, I believe that if he was some kind of pure, saintly character, he would be pure white as a character. But he has to make compromises. He has to shoot the rabid dog. He has to accept food and other goods in lieu of fees from people who can’t otherwise pay a lawyer for legal help. He has to defend a black man from wrongful rape charges as a public defender. But he is definitely a good man. He understands and accepts the shortcomings of a damaged soul like Boo Radley. He defends Tom Robinson, the black man, as an equal, even as a friend. He has to defeat the Ewells in court, but he understands and feels sympathy for abused Mayella Ewell.

Atticus Finch is beige in color because he is a character of firm principles who is not perfect, and slightly browned by the compromises of a regular hard life.

Captain Ahab, from the novel Moby-Dick, is a very different character, though he is played here by the same actor, Gregory Peck. Ahab is a dark navy-blue character. Navy blue is a color associated with the sea and the Navy (well, duh!), but also represents the depths of the ocean, the darkness that can fill the deepest corners of the obsessive mind. It is not quite a black villainous color, but definitely darker than what is needed. Ahab is a main character in his story, but definitely not a hero. He is an obsessive-compulsive nightmare, which is also a navy-blue thing. He is a storm-cloud threatening to sink his own ship, which he eventually does, and also a navy-blue thing.

Captain Keith Mallory, the anchoring main character in the plot of Alistair Maclean’s novel The Guns of Navarone, is a Kelly green character.

Now, that, of course, is not a mere Irish association, although Mallory is probably an Irish name. The color, for me, smacks of military discipline, resilience, irrepressible life and hope, and responsibility. Captain Mallory is not the leader of the commando raid on the impossibly secure anti-ship gun site on the island of Navarone, but leadership is thrust upon him when Major Franklin is injured climbing the cliff towards the guns. He is forced to adapt and make incredibly hard choices, leaving Franklin behind to be cured of gangrene by the enemy while in possession of false information that Mallory intentionally made him believe, knowing it would be tortured out of him. He also must decide to execute the resistance girl who had been helping the commandos until it was revealed she was a plant and actually helping the Germans. He is a Kelly green character of life and hope because he finds a way to succeed in the mission and brings most of the group out of it alive, having struck a major blow to the Germans.

This essay is not about Gregory Peck, though he is in all the pictures. I am merely using him to illustrate the idea that characters in fiction have different colors for me. He is a very good actor to be able to change color so easily. But the colors represent for me the kinds and qualities of the characters. I know it is not an entirely rational thing. But like the synesthesia effects on the days of the week, the colors perceived by my irrational Mickey-brain for fictional characters mean something to me, and I am attempting to explain in the best way that an irrational Mickey can.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Colors of Character

  1. How about Gregory Peck – and Audrey Hepburn – in Roman Holiday?

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