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For many years, artists and interior designers have understood that certain colors can provoke specific emotional and sometimes physiological reactions. Within a certain culture, you can be fairly certain that most of the audience will react predictably to certain colors.

A motif is a recurring element within a work, so a color motif is obviously a recurring color within the work. The color may be associated with a character, place, feeling, timeframe, or even the work overall.


  • Red is a bright color and creates feelings of excitement and intensity. It is also used to warn of danger.
  • Blue is the most common favorite color and can create calmness and serenity, although darker blues are associated with sadness. It is also symbolic of masculinity and, interestingly, also femininity.
  • Green is frequently used to symbolize nature. It's also associated with tranquility and jealousy.
  • Yellow is cheery and warm. However, it can cause feeling of frustration and anger when it is the predominant color.
  • Purple is the color of royalty and wealth, but also of wisdom. It is often associated with the spiritual or exotic.
  • Brown gives a feeling of strength and dependability. It makes us feel warmth, security, and comfort.
  • Orange is, like yellow and red, an exciting color. It easily draws attention and conveys a feeling of warmth and enthusiasm.
  • Pink is associated with romance, love, and the feminine. In Japanese media, pink can be associated with a Cherry Blossom Girl. Pink also has a calming effect.
  • Black is a color (or rather, not-color) of menace or evil. It can also be associated with death and, sometimes, rebirth.
  • White symbolizes purity or innocence. It can also make an area seem bland, sterile, or cold. In some Eastern cultures, white is a symbol of death.
  • Grey is used for mourning, humility and repentance. It can also represent depression, plainness, and lack of life or joy.
  • Gold symbolizes wealth, justice, and balance. It also is associated with wisdom and heroism. The height of a civilization is called the golden age for this reason.
  • Silver symbolizes the moon and femininity. It is also often magical in nature.

For the many specific ways colors are used as tropes, see Color Coded for Your Convenience and its subtropes.

See also Motif for other kinds of motifs found in Fiction.

Please only include examples that do not belong on a more specific color trope.

Examples of Color Motif include:


Comic books

  • Yellow is the most prominent color in Watchmen (comics) as it marks very important plot elements such as The Comedian's smiley face button, the Beware Radiation sign on the Center for Extraspatial Studies building, Ozymandiaz's hair, etc.

Film - Animated

  • In the DVD Commentary for Kung Fu Panda, the creators note when colors are used for certain effect, based on Chinese symbolism. For example, gold meant heroism, even the Big Bad, who saw himself as the hero (and everyone was just in his way).
  • Aladdin has a color scheme based on its desert setting. Blue (for life-giving water) stands for good (the Genie, Jasmine's clothes, the carpet); Red (for the blazing sun) stands for evil (Jafar's cape, Iago, the gem that tempts Abu in the Cave of Wonders); and yellow (for the ever-present sand) is neutral (Aladdin himself, the riches of the Cave of wonders).


Film - Live Action

  • In the 2002 film Hero, many recurring colors appear. Black is used for mystery, red for deceit, blue for romance, green for memory, and white for truth.
  • M. Night Shyamalan's films often use bright colors like red and yellow to emphasize the supernatural or otherwise scary or shocking elements in a scene. This is particularly noticeable in Unbreakable (which also uses the colors green and purple to isolate the characters played by Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, respectively).
  • In the film Auto Focus, orange is used to symbolize normalcy - Bob Crane's ordinary life has him drinking orange juice, he has a monologue about the meaning of the word "orange", and John Carpenter, who tempts Bob into his sex addiction, is color-blind and during a presentation, can't tell that the color is off on his projector and the on-screen oranges are purple.
  • In The Godfather films, the color orange is a symbol of impending death. Usually, it comes in the form of orange fruit, but even orange clothing and orange decorations are used as foreshadowing towards death.
  • In the Hindi film, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi the color yellow is used extensively. Important or symbolic objects such as a tiffin bucket, flowers, bed linens, a car, and clothing are all the color yellow in the movie. This color symbolizes the joyful character of the girl Taani.


Literature

  • In Ethan Frome, the color gray is associated with Ethan's wife Zeena, a cold, apathetic woman, while the color red is associated with Mattie, a lively, younger woman that Ethan falls for.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, all the noble houses throw their heraldic colours around every chance they get. The major players at the beginning of the series are the grim, dour, "stark" Starks whose colours are grey and white, and the rich, opulent Lannisters whose colours are red and gold (which contrast plays into the whole "ice and fire" motif as well).
    • Gray is universally regarded in this series as a bad color with negative connotations.
  • There's color symbolism throughout The Great Gatsby, associating white with purity and yellow with corruption, such with the girls with yellow dresses at Gatsby's party. As for his eternal love Daisy, what kind of flower is white on the outside but yellow on the inside?
  • The author Chuck Palahnuik uses a recurring motif of cornflower blue throughout his novels, for example, the colour of the tie and eyes of the narrator's boss in Fight Club.
  • Green is used in The Go Between to symbolise Leo's naivety.
  • Red is used to symbolize chaos in The Kane Chronicles, similar to Egyptian Mythology that it was based off from.


Live-Action TV

  • The CSI franchise is known for this. The original CSI has a lot of brown that evokes the desert setting of Las Vegas. CSI: Miami has a lot of orange and yellow to evoke the bright, sunny semi-tropics of Miami. CSI: NY has blues and grays to evoke the gritty nature of the big city.
  • In Twin Peaks red usually turns up suggesting danger and sexuality, most obviously in the curtains of One Eyed Jacks and the Black Lodge.
  • Early Smallville episodes also liked to use primary colours for anything related to Clark Kent, hinting at his future as Superman.
  • Sheriff Hopper from Stranger Things often wears blue when he's not in uniform. It's his late daughter Sarah's favorite color. His new daughter Jane/Eleven starts to wear blue as well.

Video Games

  • Persona:
    • Persona 3 had a dark blue motif, presumably because of the dark nature of the game.
    • However, the PSP remake had a blue motif when using the male main character, and pink when using the female main character.
    • Persona 4 used a bright yellow motif, indicating how upbeat this game was in comparison to other Shin Megami Tensei games.


Western Animation

  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, each nation has colors and seasons symbolic of it. People of the Fire Nation wear reds, golds, and redish brown, and their season is summer. Earth kingdom residents wear greens, yellow, and browns, their season is spring. The Airbender nomads wear yellow, orange, reds, and blue comes in in the color of their tattoos.Their season is fall. The water tribe wears blues, white, and purple and their season is winter.
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