The movie Schindler's List, directed by Steven Spielberg, was almost completely shot in black and white... except for the little girl in the red coat. We see her through Schindler's eyes, standing out in the crowd of Jews waiting to be processed... then later, heaped onto a wagon of corpses, still wearing her little red coat. A lot of people have speculated about what the color red means - perhaps the red symbolizes a lost innocence, or the blood of the Jewish people spilled by the Nazis. But Spielberg himself had this to say:
"America and Russia and England all knew about the Holocaust when it was happening, and yet we did nothing about it. We didn’t assign any of our forces to stopping the march toward death, the inexorable march toward death. It was a large bloodstain, primary red color on everyone’s radar, but no one did anything about it. And that’s why I wanted to bring the color red in."Or take into account the movie The Sixth Sense, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. He also used the color red repeatedly throughout his film, to symbolize when the spirit world and the real world were brushing up against each other. When Cole sees the ghost in his room, he's hiding in a red tent. At the boy's birthday party where the bullies lock Cole in the attic, he's following a red birthday balloon to the top of the stairs, and he's wearing a red sweater. There are many other examples of this symbolism used throughout the movie.
Is this something we can incorporate into our prose? The repetitive use of color is a subtle trick we can use to help set the theme and mood of our writing. Perhaps a character who's in an abusive relationship always has an example of the color purple around them, to symbolize the color of bruises. Or a theme you're touching on - poverty in Middle America, maybe - can be used to highlight people and places who are affected by this theme. Like, everyone who's using government benefits wears or carries something yellow. Or the government offices could be in a yellow building.
I think this is something that could be applied as you craft your WIP or added in as you make the second pass through your manuscript for editing. After all, theme is something we don't necessarily incorporate into every line of prose as we compose our MS, but we can go back after it's complete and inject a little here and there to really beef up the story.
What do you think? Would you consider using color to enhance the theme and mood of your prose? Have you used tricks like this in the past, or have other ways of expressing symbolism you're particularly fond of?