The Fashion of the Matter

The Books

The Color Master

 

The Color Master

Author: Aimee Bender

Genre: Short Fiction; Fairytale Retelling

Publisher:  Anchor

Published: 2013

Number of Pages: 240

 

Several of the stories in this collection are retellings of fairytales and other folk stories, and they all walk the line somewhere between realism and fantasy. Not sure what I mean? Yoga and team-building exercises find their way into a fairytale, a seamstress turns her talents to living tigers, a modern day housewife loses her head when her husband removes a red ribbon (metaphorically).

 

Catching Fire

 

Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2)

Author: Suzanne Collins

Genre: YA Dystopia

Publisher: Scholastic Corporation

Published: September 1, 2009

Number of Pages: 391

 

Picking up about 6 months after the events of The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta have survived their time in the arena and have returned to District 12 with their families. Even though the cameras and weapons are gone, however, The Games haven’t quite let them go. Neither has President Snow.

 

 

The Ties That Bind

 

Warning: Spoilers follow in the form of details and plot points of Catching Fire as well as one story from The Color Master. Due to the natures of these stories, it is impossible to point out the connections between them without including these details.

Rhetoric takes many forms: word choice, body language, actions, etc. The authors of Catching Fire and “The Color Master” focus on a slightly unusual form of rhetoric: fashion.

The title story of The Color Master retells the early events of “Donkeyskin” through the perspective of the woman tasked with creating fabrics “the color of the sky,” “the color of the moon,” and “as bright as the sun”.

For those of you unfamiliar with the original fairytale, let me lay it down for you. A queen dies, leaving behind her husband and a very young daughter. As the daughter grows, she becomes steadily more and more like her mother. As the princess nears adulthood, her father falls in love with her. (Yes, I know—that’s gross.) In an attempt to keep her father at arm’s length, the princess asks for the impossible: dresses the color of the sky, the color of the moon, and as bright as the sun. However, her father is able to commission each of these dresses and present them to her. In order to escape her father’s advances, the princess flees the kingdom wearing the skin of a donkey.

So, that’s the original story; in Aimee Bender’s version, we see events through the lens of an apprentice “Color Master” who is tasked with creating these fabrics. First things first: the apprentice Color Master knows why these fabrics were commissioned and resolves to use her fabrics to give the princess the strength to run away. It is not until the final dress—the one “as bright as the sun” that the apprentice finally manages to “put anger” into the dress and thus compel the princess to escape her father.

Catching Fire, indeed the entire Hunger Games trilogy is full of rhetoric: Peeta has a way with words, Haymitch communicates with Katniss in the arena via gifts from sponsors, and President Snow inspires fear with smell and white roses. However, the absolute rhetorical master, in my opinion, is Cinna. As a stylist, Cinna has learned to communicate with the entire country on a subconscious level through the use of hair, make-up, and fabric. With his very first outfit, Cinna is able to burn Katniss (almost literally) into the minds and hearts of the people of Panem. Throughout Katniss’s journey, Cinna is able to cultivate perceptions based entirely on her wardrobe: a headband and a dress of soft yellow candlelight convey the idea of Katniss as a young girl who could not possibly have any ideas of challenging the government; an outfit of glowing embers complete with a crown proclaims that Katniss has endured much, has matured, and is much more than what Capitol leaders ever wished her to be.

Cinna’s crowning achievement in Catching Fire, however, is Katniss’s “wedding” dress. Forced by Capitol leaders to dress Katniss in the gown meant for her wedding on the eve before she is again sent into an arena to die, Cinna rigs the garment so that, when Katniss raises her arms and twirls, it transforms into an elegant likeness of a Mockingjay, and thus solidifies her as the symbol of the struggling rebellion against the Capitol. Although he ultimately pays for this action with his life, Cinna spoke directly to the people of the Districts without saying a word. As you will find if you read the final book in the trilogy, Katniss’s mockingjay dress is not quite his final word.

In both stories, a background character is able to influence the overall plot through the use of fashion as a rhetorical device. The apprentice Color Master learns to encourage certain emotional reactions through color. Cinna propels a girl from District 12 to become the symbol of a national rebellion. And people say fashion is useless!

Up Next

The Birchbark Huse by Louise Erdrich and Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Birchbark-Gathering Blue

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