Follow TV Tropes

Following

Body Motifs

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/shg_2.jpg
He can be quite a handful.
Advertisement:

Most viewers will wince when they see a wound inflicted on a sympathetic character, since physical injury is something all people can relate to. For similar reasons, a motif that involves a part of the body is a particularly visceral one.

Usually, using a body motif means constantly referring to the body part in question (those who have to stop and retrieve their minds from the gutter may do so now). This can be done through dialogue or by physically highlighting it, such as someone who's constantly wringing their hands or tapping their foot. A tattoo, scar, piercing, birth mark or mole on a certain part of the body is another way of drawing attention to it.

Like most motifs, the symbolism is normally dependent on the associations most people have with that particular part. The eyes, ears, hands, tongue and nose are all connected to the five senses. Hands also stand in for actions that one takes and (together with fingers), well, manual skills. Legs may symbolize movement. A person's back can be related to "backstabbing" or "turning your back on someone." The neck is usually seen as a vulnerable point - partly due to years of vampire tales, but also because that's where many predators aim for when taking down their prey.

Advertisement:

Of course, if the body part in question has been separated from the rest of the person it belongs to, it's a given that there's a Poetic Serial Killer around. Giving some thought to which part of the body he uses as a "trophy" is usually a clue to his motives.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Monster, Johan likes to tell people to shoot him in the head (which happens, in fact, twice). This is done as a parallel to the beast from Revelation, as well as being imitated in a puppeteer's play later on in the show.
    • Another body motif is embodied in Tenma's hands, which are steady during surgery but shake before his attempt to kill Johan.
    • As well as Lunge/Runge's hand, which moves as if he's typing whenever he is learning new information or recalling something he has already learned.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion focuses heavily on hands, eyes, (usually symbolic) vaginas, and disturbing combinations thereof.
    • In particular, a wounded/damaged right eye and broken left arm is a recurring combination, to the extent that when Rei first appears in the OP a window pane is covering said eye and arm.
    • Hands get focused on a LOT in the original series, The Movie, and Rebuild, to the point where someone even wrote a whole essay about it.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • Hands and arms, especially outstretched towards the sky. Many State Alchemists have their circles imprinted on gloves or tattooed to their hands. Edward has his automail arm and Scar has his brother's right arm. Almost all alchemists normally perform alchemy by placing their hands on transmutation circles.
    • In addition every alchemist who had performed human transmutation must give up a part of their body symbolic of their motivations.
      • Izumi attempted to resurrect her dead child, and was so given a body that would never allow her to bear a child again.
      • Edward lost his leg, as it was "the leg that supported the family". He later gave up right arm to save Al's soul, as symbolic virtue of Al acting as a 'right hand'.
      • Al lost his body of flesh and was thus unable to feel his mother's warmth.
    • The overwhelming amount of back motifs with Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye. From Riza's Flame Alchemy tattoo, to the way Riza has been appointed by Roy to "watch his back", and if he ever stray from his path to shoot him in the back as well. This motif occurs frequently through their interractions.
    • Teeth. If you see a mouth in which the teeth are drawn with detail, look out. It's first seen with the Truth's too-wide smile, and recurs with Gluttony's Horror Hunger. Then there are the mannequin soldiers (who don't even seem to have lips), which tear people apart with their large flat teeth. And the Gold-Toothed Doctor has a smile similar to Truth's.
  • The bonus OVA for Darker Than Black decides to goof around with this trope by making Hei's collarbone, of all things, a plot point.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann uses faces as a motif (more so than drills) - all their mecha are designed as giant heads with limbs, creating a significant shift in the status quo when the Gurren Lagann becomes the first truly humanoid mecha. After the first Time Skip, civilisation has been rebuilt, with faces as a recurring motif in architecture - and finally, the Anti-Spiral mecha deliberately subvert this motif, being designed without a face or anything that might indicate that they were of this world. Their spaceships, however, have too many body parts, being covered in faces and arms, with smaller ships being flying hands and feet with faces on them.
  • Letter Bee has two; eyes and hands.
    • Eyes: One of Lag's eyes was replaced by a piece of amber when he was a baby; Ninche and her sister both have cat-like eyes; Dr. Thunderstone and one other survivor of the airship crash are missing one eye each; the twin gate keepers are missing both eyes.
    • Hands: several characters have oversized claws instead of normal hands. These characters include Niche, Hunt, Niche's sister, and Zeal.
  • FLCL has those eyebrows...
  • Hands, big time, in Dawn Tsumetai Te.
  • In My Hero Academia, the villainous Tomura Shigaraki has hands as these. His Quirk, Decay, rots anything when held with all five fingers.
  • Naruto:
    • Hands.
      • Most frequently shown in the hand signals which are used to cast jutsu or control techniques.
      • Also demonstrated in the jinchuuriki ability to summon extra hands and limbs for various purposes.
    • Tails are easily recognizable through the various tailed beasts in the story, with ten in all.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable: Yoshikage Kira, the Big Bad, has an excessive focus on hands. His whole MO as a Serial Killer is to kill women and keep their hands as "girlfriends" doing so after finding arousal upon seeing the Mona Lisa's hands. His Red Right Hand involves his fingernails growing at an alarming rate whenever he feels the urge to kill, resulting in a lot of focus on his hands as his pent up aggression makes them grow longer and longer. His Stand, Killer Queen, makes bombs out of things by touching them with his hands, and Sheer Heart Attack is deployed from its hands. The damage to Sheer Heart Attack is synchronized directly to Kira's hand, and he later chops it off to set SHA free to attack everyone.

    Fan Works 
  • Dirty Sympathy has a continuing focus on the throat and neck. The story opens with Apollo trying to find medicine to treat his neck injury, given courtesy of Kristoph and his bleeding neck is what attracts Klavier's attention to him in the first place and inspires to latter to help treat his injures, despite being strangers. Klavier is nearly strangled to death with chains wrapped around his throat. When Apollo feels immense guilt he describes it as a pressure gathering in his throat.
  • Royal Heights places a lot of emphasis on hands and fingers. Students are granted a link to a Second Conscience through a metal chip in their fingers, most magical incantations involve some form of specific hand movement, and a goddess figure hailed as the Royal has four arms that begin to grow around the school building.
Advertisement:

    Films — Animation 
  • In Finding Nemo, when a fish character is injured, the injury will always be on or on the area of the fin - analagous to the hand, anatomically speaking, but in practice bearing a greater resemblance to a damaged leg: Nemo's fin is shriveled due to an accident before his birth, Gil's fin is deeply scratched from an escape attempt, and even Dory's fin gets stung badly from jellyfish tentacles.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subtle and not-so-subtle references to the groin abound in The Big Lebowski - Whereas the entirely powerless titular Lebowski has his hands and/or a blanket over his groin at all times, the Dude constantly stretches out his legs as often as he can. Miss Lebowski has a whole conversation about how men are uncomfortable with the word vagina and yet bring up variations on the word penis at the drop of a hat. Plus the whole, "We'll cut off your CHONSON!" part. Supposedly, this represents each characters desire for power versus the power they do wield.
  • In Chinatown, Gittes' nose is cut. Because the crooks found he was too nosy.
  • In the films of David Lynch, injury to the head is very common. Especially in the appropriately titled Eraserhead.
  • In Hancock, Red, the villain, has his hand cut off by the badass hero. From that point, Red is always associated with hands (mostly just for laughs).
  • Manos: The Hands of Fate. Done so (ahem) ham-handedly that the MST3K crew shouts "SEEN IT!" when the hand design on The Master's robes is not-so-subtly revealed for the umpteenth time.
  • In the Star Wars saga, the severing of the hand or arm occurs frequently. This is such a well known motif that in Episode II: Attack of the Clones Anakin's disarming is teased during the factory sequence before actually occuring at the hands of Count Dooku. In Star Wars the severing of the arm or hand of an adversary is the most common way to defeat an opponent without killing them, making Count Dooku's actions particularly significant.
  • The Interview makes use of a Hand motif (note David Skylark's use of overly grandiose gestures on his show), presumably in reference to the initial plan of assassinating Kim Jong-un via handshake while wearing a poison patch on his palm.
  • Bound: Fingers. The mafiosos cut off fingers as Mutilation Interrogation, but the lesbian protagonists make love with their hands. The final shot is their Intertwined Fingers.

    Literature 
  • In the British murder mystery Messiah, the serial killer brutally murders his victims, who have the names of the Jesus' twelve apostles, and takes out their tongues, replacing them with spoons. This isn't just a reference to "speaking in tongues" - his final target is Judas, the "silver tongued devil" - or to put it another way, the liar. The manner in which his eleven victims are killed echo the death of their biblical namesake.
  • Jacob Have I Loved: Sarah Louise develops a theory that a person's hands, not their eyes, are the window to the soul.
  • C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces mentions faces frequently. Aside from the title, Orual's ugly face is compared with Istra's beauty and with the many faces of the goddess Ungit. For many years, Orual wears a veil.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Timothy Zahn often uses a hand-as-title motif in his Star Wars novels. In The Thrawn Trilogy, Mara Jade was revealed to have been the Emperor's Hand, a sort of agent. In the Hand of Thrawn duology, characters speculate that the Hand of Thrawn is an agent like Mara or a superweapon; it turns out to be a five-towered fortress with a massive repository of Thrawn's greatest weapon, knowledge. And a very special clone. The Empire Thrawn set up out in the Unknown Regions is called the "Empire of the Hand". Most recently, in Allegiance, the five do-gooder renegade stormtroopers accidentally name themselves the Hand of Judgement. The 501st Legion, Darth Vader's personal Badass Army, is sometimes called "Vader's Fist", though to be fair the 501st is an Ascended Meme/Reverse Defictionalization and not Zahn's creation. At the end of Allegiance, the Emperor's Hand saves the Hand of Judgement from Vader by claiming them as hers, saying, "You have the entire Five-oh-first. You certainly won't begrudge me my Hand of Judgment." Then she hears the five out, concludes that while they are technically deserters they are also good Imperials, and lets them leave, telling them to lose the name. There's only one Hand in the Empire, and she's it.
    • In the Revenge of the Sith novelization, Anakin's mechanical hand aches when Count Dooku is near, crushes things when he's angry, and is mentioned often.
  • The Lord of the Rings does a rather subtle theme involving the senses. Most good guys, if they have heightened senses, have heightened sight and/or hearing. The bad guys on the other hand, (particularly the Orcs and Nazgûl) have heightened smell, and are often either impaired in the light or even partially blind. The effect of this is giving a much more animalistic or uncanny feel to the bad guys, while the good guys have cleaner, more human senses emphasized. The major obvious exception is Sauron, whose symbol is the eye.
    • Saruman's symbol is the hand, which ties with his skill at artifice.
  • TS Eliot had a thing for talking about separate body parts, especially eyes, to symbolize what he viewed as the fragmentary nature of modern life. See "The Hollow Men" and "The Wasteland" for some of the more prominent examples.
  • John Singer's hands in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: hands appear with near-monotonous regularity, often as the objects of injury and symbols of a character's power.
  • George Macdonald, in The Princess and Curdie, gave Curdie the ability to tell what a living being was truly like by taking its hand, or other limb, in his own. The "hideous animal" Lina's paw feels to Curdie like "a child's hand"; his own mother's "horny, cracked, rheumatic old hand, with its big joints, and its short nails all worn down to the quick with hard work", feels like that of Irene's great-grandmother (implied to be an angel); the king's courtiers have hands that feel like the limbs of pigs or donkeys.
  • The Reynard Cycle : The protagonist loses his left hand during The Baron of Maleperduys. It is later replaced by a semi-functional iron hand, which often moves when Reynard is agitated or angry, seemingly against his will. He calls it his "ghost hand."
  • Edgedancer (a novella of The Stormlight Archive): A random beggar asks passers-by what part of a body they are, and takes their answers completely seriously. He says that he is working on a theory that each person is actually just a part of the organism that is the city. He himself is a Hive Mind of thousands of insects called hordelings, so this isn't just idle curiosity.
  • Birthright (2017) frequently mentions bones, especially when magic is being used, in reference to the deepest part or 'core' of someone.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "Restless", Xander is The Heart of the group, so the First Slayer rips out his heart.
  • In the show House, the titular character's leg injury serves this purpose.
  • The Highness Dukes of Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger are all patterned after body parts: Shuten has lots of eyes, Ura is basically a walking nose, and Rasets is a mass of mouths. Their adaptational counterparts in Power Rangers Wild Force are given the fitting Meaningful Names of Retinax, Nazor, and Mandilok, respectively.
  • Lost: The consistent attacks on John Locke's legs, which seems to connect to his self-perceived helplessness.

    Music 
  • This is also true in songs written by John Flansburgh, both in They Might Be Giants ("Contrecoup") and his side-band, Mono Puff ("Unsupervised, I Hit My Head").
  • The Paper Chase, by Word of God are "fascinated with the idea of hands as independent from their owners", with songs like "Goddamn These Hands (I Let Them Touch You)" "Where Have those Hands Been" "Wait Until I Get My Hands on You", as well as heads, eyes, hearts, arms, kidneys... In fact, their lyrics ARE this trope.
  • Mitski seems to have a borderline sexual fascination with hands. They appear prominently in the videos for "Your Best American Girl", "Washing Machine Heart", "Geyser" and "Nobody".

    Theatre 
  • Samuel Beckett's classic absurdist play Waiting for Godot substitutes clothing for this purpose, but the association is still there: the high-minded Vladimir is always looking at his hat, and the humbler Estragon complains that his boots are too tight. Lucky also cannot speak unless he has a hat on.
    • Beckett invokes this trope often. Play consists of three heads sticking out of 3 foot urns and literally nothing else. In Not I, the only thing the audience ever see is a disembodied mouth that speaks rapidly for about 15 minutes.
  • In Hamlet, Hamlet's father was killed by having poison poured in his ear. This allows Shakespeare to sprinkle the play with such auditory references as: "So the whole ear of Denmark is by a forged process of my death rankly abus'd".
  • Along similar lines, hands are a major motif in Titus Andronicus even before characters start having them chopped off.
  • Richard II is a play that's very concerned with speech and speech acts, which is why it's full of references to tongues. Unlike most of the examples on this page, this motif is never literalized (and isn't generally visualized in productions) — although it is full of scenes that are mostly talking, with very little physical action until the final scenes.
  • Hamilton has numerous references to eyes. Angelica and Eliza sing about Alexander's beautiful eyes. Jefferson, Madison, and Burr point out Hamilton's deceptive eyes as one reason to distrust him. Eyes are also mentioned each time a character engages in a duel. Alexander describes his situation in "Hurricane" as being in the eye of the storm. He also says that while writing to earn passage to the mainland, the people of his hometown had their eyes on him. And in the finale Eliza says she sees Alexander in the eyes of the orphans she helped raise after his passing.

    Video Games 
  • Of all the Body Horror that appears in Yume Nikki, that involving eyes and hands is the most prominent.
  • Neverending Nightmares takes place in a World of Symbolism dreamscape, and so the particular focus on arms is probably not a coincidence. The main character inflicts Self-Harm on his forearms, some enemies' arms are bound or misshapen, there are severed arms laying around in one particularly gruesome section of the game...
  • Paracentric takes place across three worlds that each outlaw one of its citizen's senses, and each world contains imagery relating to the sense that has been forbidden. Eyes for the first world, ears for the second, and tongues for the third.
  • The Evil Within places a lot of emphasis on the brain, including the upgrade material-a vscous green fluid-represented by a Brain in a Jar icon, and upgrading your character has the icon of a brain with nails in it.
  • We Know the Devil: Each main character has an associated body motif that shows through a Character Tic, an elemental power when fighting the Devil, and a Humanoid Abomination form taken when possessed by the Devil.

    Web Comics 
  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja both Dan McNinja and Gordito possess the Mustache of Authority.
  • Homestuck removes an arm and injures an eye of a harlequin doll within Act 1. Thereafter, the missing-arm-missing-eye pattern reoccurs again and again, usually with evil or morally ambiguous characters.
  • Metacarpolis: The comic is filled with hand references, like the names of Metacarpolis, the Digits, and the Handeymen. Possibly due to how the 'Master' who built the city seems to be an expy of the Master from Manos: The Hands of Fate.
  • Nebula: Panels focused on one of a character's hands reoccur, and usually indicate either that an important decision has been made or realization has been had. In addition, the Big Bad's six-fingered hands are used to signify her, and are shown as a symbol of her control over Ceres and Pluto.

    Western Animation 
  • Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Most or all of the character's self-worth and daddy issues are all tied up in his hugely noticeable facial scar.
    • Aang ends up getting his own scar in the season 2 finale, when Azula blasts him from behind with lightning. Throughout the third season, we get constant shots of Aang's horrible burn in the centre of his back.
  • This seems to be the entire idea behind the Crimson Chin Comic/Webshow Within A Show in the Fairly Odd Parents. Aside from the eponymous hero and his Jay Leno-parody chin, nearly his entire rogues gallery is based on various body parts. This includes the Bronze Kneecap, Iron Lung, Copper Cranium, Titanium Toenail, Gilded Arches, Golden Gut, Brass Knuckles, Hair-Razor, and his own evil counterpart, the Nega-Chin.
  • Gemkind in Steven Universe have this going on, with their personal gems' locations on their bodies often corresponding to some aspect of their personality.
    • The protagonist Crystal Gems also have a subtle secondary facial theme: Garnet hides three eyes behind her vizor, Pearl's most easily-noticed feature is her nose, and Amethyst bears the poutiest lips in the series.
  • Finn from Adventure Time has his right arm repeatedly focused on and brought to the audience's attention, with many alternate selves, imagined futures, or past incarnations missing that arm or having a prosthetic one. This is all foreshadowing for when he eventually loses his right arm in the season 6 premier, grows it back a few episodes later, and loses it permanently in the season 7 finale.

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report