Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

Colorful language in Autobiography of Red (no, not THAT type of colorful language)

In Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson uses language inventively and creatively, pairing unlikely senses and concepts in a way that serves to make readers think more deeply about the text and to consider the ways in which language can play off itself to enhance the story’s intimate type of mysticism as it relates to the original ancient myth of Geryon. This novel revolves around color and the ways in which Anne Carson manipulates color to be a representation of Geryon’s self — “his small red shadow” (24) doesn’t literally mean that his shadow was red, but he himself and his wings, which are so closely tied to his sense of self, are red, red, red. When Geryon meets Herakles, however, colors shift, like how Herakles dreams of Geryon in yellow (which is, to Geryon, outrageous). In one passage, Carson pairs Herakles and his desire for sex with the color blue, writing (presumably as an observation of Geryon’s), “Herakles lies like a piece of torn silk in the heat of the blue saying,/Geryon please” (53). Here, blue is unexpected in several ways: “heat” suggests colors such as orange, yellow, or red, which are all warm colors, and blue is not a warm color. Additionally, blue, now associated with Herakles, is a near-contrasting color to red, which is Geryon’s “color”, further emphasizing the divide between Herakles and Geryon and shows how different and even perhaps wrong for each other they are.  The pairing of color with additional sensations gives Autobiography of Red more layers and additional, meaningful complexity.


  1. Color could also represent emotions, more so with Geryon than with Herakles. Red is such a vivid and strong color. Perhaps Geryon chose to associate himself with that color, because all of his emotions are bubbling just below the surface. Indeed, the color blue and red are stark opposites, as you’ve mentioned, and this could relate to the way either person expresses emotions; Geryon feels his own emotions bubbling at the surface, whereas Herakles is as cool as a cucumber.

  2. Hello! I found your points really interesting! I especially liked your analysis of how blue is used in unexpected ways. I noticed that too but I did not think about the contrasting colors associated with Geryon and Herakles. Also, if I remember correctly, there is not a mention of purple–the combination of blue and red–at all in the book.

    PS: Your title made me laugh! Clever!

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