Color Motif

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 and can symbolize anger or passion. In Indian culture (Bollywood) and many parts of Southeast Asia, red is the color of marriage.
  • 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 feelings 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 and by extension spring and rebirth. 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.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • In The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, Mashiro, an Idiot Savant and genius artist asks Sorata, her future Cloudcuckoolander's Minder what color he pictures himself. He claims to be opal-like, a swirling of colors. She sees herself as white. Later on he is depicted as insecure, confused about his future and overly worried about being normal; she instead is completely focused in her art, if not unbounded by societal norms.
  • Darker Than Black combines this with Colorful Theme Naming. The main character, Hei, is codenamed after the Chinese word for black, which is carried over with his all-black clothing and unreflective black eyes. He is, accordingly, The Stoic, a total badass, and surprisingly close to being Batman. His dead little sister, codenamed Pai (white), is most often seen in flashbacks in a white dress, and hits pretty much all the ideas associated with that color by also being a Person of Mass Destruction. The Rei Ayanami Expy, Yin, has a codename meaning "silver," silver hair, and is... well, a Rei clone, and thus a Mysterious Waif with unusual powers and abilities. Similar statements can be made about most of the other characters with color codenames.

    Comic Books 

    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 means heroism, even for the Big Bad, who saw himself as the hero (and everyone else as just in his way).
    • In Kung Fu Panda 2, Lord Shen is symbolized by red and white, representing fire and metal in Wu Xing philosophy. He uses both as his weapons in the form of the cannon. Additionally, white is the traditional color of death in Asian cultures.
  • 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). Early on Aladdin also wears a purple vest, a mixture of blue and red, meaning that he is mixture of good and evil; not to mention foreshadowing his first wish being to "be a prince" and him becoming a prince through marriage.
  • In Frozen, three characters are associated specifically with a particular color, present in all their outfits, though with interesting subtlety: Anna, which is throughly associated with green (most notably, her otherwise blue winter clothes have a green corset, which could mean that this motiff is related to Spring), Elsa, associated with blue (for obvious reasons), and Hans, associated with white as a subversion of Disney expectations.
  • The Book of Life:
    • Red for Maria — symbolizing her bravery, plus the fact that both dresses she wore as a child and adult were both red. Jorge even states that Maria's favorite color is red.
    • Red for La Muerte — representing love, passion, and life.
    • Green for Xibalba — representing his envy.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Each film of Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colors Trilogy is named after a color on the French flag (Blue, White, and Red) and has memorable cinematography focused on using that color to striking effect.
  • Striking use of color is part of the Signature Style of Zhang Yimou:
    • Zhang's 1991 Raise the Red Lantern features the color red as a dominant theme, representing the Chen family (particularly Mr. Chen), with other minor motifs following each of the wives/concubines.
    • In his 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.
  • In The Sixth Sense (1999), the color red is intentionally absent from most of the film, but is used prominently in a few isolated shots for anything in the real world that has been tainted by the other world and to connote really explosively emotional moments and situations.
  • The three films in Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's "Three Flavours Cornetto" trilogy are all associated with a specific color, represented by a flavor of Cornetto ice cream.
    • The first film, Shaun of the Dead, was a comedy about zombies with tons of blood and gore, its main character spent the entire movie wearing a white shirt with a red tie, a Running Gag involved various characters telling him, "You've got red on you," note  and one scene had a character eating a strawberry flavored Cornetto ice cream cone.
    • The second film, Hot Fuzz, was a buddy cop movie that had the protagonists dressed in blue uniforms for the majority of the film, several scenes had a noticeable blue tint, and one scene had a character eating an "original flavor" Cornetto ice cream cone (which comes in a blue package).
    • Though the details are currently vague, Word of God indicates that the upcoming third film, The World's End, will be the series' "green" film, and that it will feature a mint chocolate Cornetto ice cream cone in at least one scene.
  • Vertigo uses green to illustrate Scottie's obsession for Madeline. For instance, after Judy gets completely made over in Madeline's image, the neon sign outside the window casts a green glow on her.
  • The Phantom of the Opera movie musical had a lot of red.
  • In Greed, a black & white movie, yellow represents greed. Specifically, it represents gold—gold nuggets in ore, Trina's gold wedding ring, the $5000 in gold coins that Trina wins, which wrecks three lives. The gold is hand-colored yellow. By the time it ends, with a murderer fleeing into the desert, the whole world is tinted yellow.
  • The Red Kimono uses red to symbolize sin and prostitution. So while most of the movie is in black-and-white, the eponymous kimono is actually shown as red onscreen. Similarly, the streetlight in the Red Light District where Gabrielle's brothel is located is shown as red onscreen.

  • 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.
  • The author Chuck Palahnuik uses a recurring motif of cornflower blue throughout his novels, for example, the color of the tie and eyes of the narrator's boss in Fight Club.
  • Valhalla features color coded gangs, which were created by prison companies to keep their prisons full. The gangs have have long since taken over the companies by the time the story begins.
  • Green is used in The Go-Between to symbolize Leo's naivety.
  • 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?
    • Green is used to a great extent as well, being associated with the idea of hope. The light at the end of Daisy's dock, which Gatsby seen reaching out towards and is described as one of Gatsby's "enchanted objects", is green, and the settlers Nick describes in the famous end passage of the novel are described as sighting "the fresh, green breast of the new world".
      • Or, from another point of view, the green light at the end of Daisy's dock represents Envy. Specifically, Gatsby's envy towards Tom for his marriage with Daisy.
  • Red is used to symbolize chaos in The Kane Chronicles, similar to Egyptian Mythology that it was based off from.
  • In The Reynard Cycle, white is highly associated with death (it doesn't help that the moon looks like a giant skull.) This becomes especially apparent in Defender of the Crown, when the author himself begins to use the color as a form of foreshadowing.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, all the noble houses throw their heraldic colors around every chance they get. The major players at the beginning of the series are the grim, dour, "stark" Starks whose colors are grey and white, and the rich, opulent Lannisters whose colors are red and gold (which contrast plays into the whole "ice and fire" motif as well).
    • The Night's Watch and the Kings guard wear black and white, respectively. Both represent moral ambiguity.
      • Though in different ways- the King's Guard is very respectable, but even the heroic characters among them tend to be assholes, subverting Light Is Good. The men of the Night's Watch are mostly thieves and other petty criminals, and mostly aren't the virtuous defenders of the realm that they should be, but tend to be commanded by men of high, if primitive, moral standards (for what those are worth in Westeros).
  • The two cults featured in The Tenets of Futilism have very different ideas as to the meaning of the color white. The Waxers believe it symbolizes purity, tranquility, the usual stuff. Futilists, on the other hand, see white as representing all the colors of the rainbow rendered boring and dull together.
  • Lord of the Rings: Saruman's title of "the White" seems to mark him as the leader of the Istari (wizards). However, as part of his Face-Heel Turn, he opts to become Saruman of Many Colors. While that may seem like a step up from White, Gandalf notes that, since White is all colors together, Many Colors are symbolic of discord and divisiveness. For the record, the other wizards use mostly neutral colors like grey or brown (besides the two blue ones).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angels in Touched by an Angel glow orange when they announce their presence to humans.
  • The CSI franchise is known for this. The original CSI has a lot of brown that evokes the desert setting of Las Vegas. CSI: NY has blues and grays to evoke the gritty nature of the big city. CSI: Miami has a lot of orange and yellow to evoke the bright, sunny semi-tropics of Miami.
  • In "Utopia" a bright acrid yellow is used throughout the series, often relating to death and danger, and very closely tied with Arby the hit man.
  • 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 colors for anything related to Clark Kent, hinting at his future as Superman.
  • Emma from Once Upon a Time is first introduced wearing a red dress and throughout the series often wears a scarlet leather jacket. Also, Ruby always has red on her outfits, whether it is her red highlights or drives a red car or has a red wolf ornament on her windshield, which is fitting seeing how her Fairytale counterpart is Red Riding Hood.
    • Mary Margaret Blanchard aka Snow White often wears white.
  • The "little yellow house" the Blacks lived in during the first season of Millennium was so colored because its warm and cheery qualities made it a (seeming) refuge from the dark and grisly cases Frank worked on.

  • Al Green's made puns on his last name by naming an album "Green Is Blues" and having the lettering on the album covers of Call Me and Lets Stay Together be in green typography.
  • REM were quite associated with the color yellow. Dead Letter Office, Eponymous, Green, Out Of Time, Reveal and Collapse Into Now used it dominantly on the cover, and Automatic For The People had a yellow CD tray on early pressings. Murmur'' was even reissued with a yellow logo instead of a blue one (which was the one widely available in the UK for years).. Also, the videos "This Film Is On", "Tourfilm", "Parallel", "Road Movie" used yellow dominantly often for the logo, as did the live album "Live At The Olympia". The use of the color implies that
  • Type O Negative virtually always used green and black on their album covers, and sometimes orange. The only exception to this rule is the reissue of Dead Again which is red - the original is however green. Usually the text on their albums will be white, with the band name in the top right corner, and the album name in the bottom left. The band did this intentionally to evoke a sense of continuity - describing the green as 'verdigris'and the orange as 'ochre'.

    Video Games 
  • Persona:
    • Persona 3 has a dark blue motif, fitting for the depressing, somewhat dreary atmosphere of the game. The PSP remake has the same blue motif when using the male main character, and pink when using the newly-added female main character.
    • Persona 4 uses a cheery, bright yellow motif, indicating how upbeat the game is in comparison to other Shin Megami Tensei games and, especially, Persona 3. The Vita Updated Re-release is called Persona 4 Golden.
    • Spinoff Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, which brings together the characters from both 3 and 4, uses purple.
    • Persona 5 uses a bright red motif, symbolizing the danger and excitement of the main characters' Phantom Thief lifestyles.
  • In the latter half of Earthbound, Porky dons a flashy suit to indicate that he's now rich and corrupt. It's red and black — just like the alien conquerer Giygas when you fight him.
  • In Mio's route in Little Busters!, the colors blue and white are given special importance due to their association with a poem Mio loves: 'the seagull/wonder if she is sad/untouched by either the blue of the sky or the blue of the sea'. Later, Mio writes about her flying someone 'in blue's embrace', and in the end it's made clear that Mio is the white bird and Riki is the blue. Therefore it's a hint of foreshadowing when a character named Midori is introduced as there's no room in the poem for green.
  • In Drakengard, the dragons are colored differently. In the first Drakengard, Angelus, Caim's dragon, is red. She starts out as a bright red, turns pink in her second form, and then goes to a deep red in her third form. Her chaos form is a deep, purplish red. In Drakengard 2, Legna, Nowe's dragon, starts out as being a rich blue. He then turns to a darker, almost midnight blue, and finally goes to black. In Drakengard 3, Mikhail, Zero's dragon, is white with a black underbelly.
  • Throughout the Legend of Zelda series, there are three recurring colors: red, which represents Power and the goddess Din; blue, which represents Wisdom and the goddess Nayru; and green, which represents Courage and the goddess Farore. Each of these colors is frequently worn by or otherwise associated with the main character connected with that facet of the Triforce - red for Ganondorf, blue for Zelda, and green for Link.
  • In the Five Nights at Freddy's series, purple comes up frequently, and it's never good. It's connected to the player, since the security uniforms are apparently purple and, by extension, to the killer, the Purple Man, and the murders. Come the fourth game, it looks like it might go back even further than the murders in '87.
  • Command And Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars. GDI is blue, Nod is red and the Scrin is purple. Kane later starts wearing purple.

    Web Comics 
  • In Homestuck, all of the kids and trolls have a particular shade that they are associated with. For the kids, this color just relates to their text color and the color of the symbol on their t-shirt, but for the trolls is actually has plot-significance: Alternian society is run based on a color-based caste system, with blue, purple, and pink at the top and red, orange, and yellow at the bottom. Also, Skaia is represented by blue and white, representing the sky and thus nature, while the Felt, Green Sun, Doc Scratch, and Lord English are associated with an unnatural green, and the opposing planets Prospit and Derse are almost entirely composed of golden and purple colors respectively. And, each player character possesses an in-game Class and Aspect, the latter of which is associated with a certain combination of shades, meaning that some characters have two associated colors. These motifs are very prevalent in the fandom, with it being common to draw fanart in which a character is entirely drawn in their color, or Idiosyncratic Ship Names based on them, e.g., PBJ for Gamzee/Tavros, whose colors are purple and brown.
  • In Evus, each of the three nations of the world, Nem, are assosciated with a certain color. Pandion, a peace-loving nation and the homeland of the protagonist, has a gold/yellow flag. Accipiter, the nation at war with Pandion and the one that values war and honor, has a red flag. Elanus, a cold and windy nation which is somewhat on the sidelines of the war, has a blue flag.
  • In Icarus Needs, this is used to help instill the atmosphere.

    Web Original 
  • In Koan Of The Day, green is often used to symbolize the tortoise, whose words are occasionally in green.
  • Various colors create recurring themes throughout The Graystone Saga. Main character Lady Gray has an unsurprising gray motif, but there are a number of other examples, such as the priests of the Cathedral of Cedars wearing differently colored belts to indicate their focus; those who minister to the sick, for instance, wear green belts.
  • Toki used to be drawn in a purple dress or in something that is purple, as can be seen here: [1]. While doubling as Purple Is Powerful (she is wealthy and is seen of high status) and Graceful Ladies Like Purple, it is also a color motif for insanity, fitting seeing as she is mentally ill. However, more commonly she is drawn in black, as can be seen here[2], a color that represents secrecy and mourning (or, for that matter, sorrow), a well as power and control, along with elegance, which in turn symbolizes her being, seeing as she does hide secrets, as well as hide her inner sorrow but, at the same time, she does hold some power and control, which would be most prominent seeing that she is queen of the Yakuza and is in charge of numerous illegal organizations. Ironically, her inner sorrow and secrets is what drove her insane in the first place.
    • In that vein, Doki is typically drawn in something pink or white, as can be seen here and here, something that the former represents sweetness and she is a very nice person and the latter is supposed to represent her innocence or, rather, saintliness, during troubling times.
  • Colours are prominent in RWBY, and the series itself was inspired by a dream about red, white, black, and yellow.
    • Ruby always dresses in red, and dyes her hair the same colour. Given that she's a passionate idealist and the protagonist, the symbolism is clear.
    • Weiss's name translates into 'White Snow', the colour of her hair. She's an intellectual perfectionist who likes everything to be in order.
    • Blake has black hair and wears black. She's not evil by any means, but she's not exactly friendly or chatty, and her troubled past, her status as a former terrorist, and her more cynical outlook on the world, make her the team Anti-Hero.
    • Yang has flowing blonde hair and loads of yellow in her clothing. The polar opposite of Blake, she is extremely warm and friendly, but she has a hell of a temper.

    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 reddish brown, and their season is summer. Earth Kingdom residents wear greens, yellow, and browns, and 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 Tribes wear blues, white, and purple and their season is winter.
  • In the Spectacular Spider-Man, there appear to be different colors representing different aspects of Peter's life:
    • Blue represents Peter's personal identity, between his blue bedroom, blue shirt, and the blue on the Spider-Man costume.
    • Yellow seems to represent safety, friendship and family: yellow house, yellow school and biology classroom (his best subject), Gwen and Eddie both have blonde hair (No longer visible on Eddie after he becomes Venom), Aunt May dresses in yellow and feeds Peter banana-cream pie, even Jameson, Peter's source of employment, dresses in yellow.
    • Green represents danger: many of the villains dress in green (And the main villain even has "Green" in his name), even down to Doc Ock wearing green goggles, and the Osborns all wear green, while Oscorp is largely lit with green light. Colonel Jupiter has a green and yellow costume, denoting him as an apparent ally who becomes an enemy.
    • Red may represent new things in Peter's life which could be good or bad: MJ has red hair, Vulture (the first of a trend of supervillains) has red armor, and the red on Spider-Man's costume.
    • This might be reaching a bit, but Black may represent moral ambiguity: Black Cat is an obvious example, while Venom eventually becomes more anti-heroic in the comics, something which may have eventually happened on the show as well, had it not been cancelled. Further, Tombstone dresses in a black suit: he's definitely a bad guy, but doesn't want to make war with Spider-Man if he doesn't have to.

Alternative Title(s):

Colour Motif, Color Motifs