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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
As characters struggle to see truth from lies, to tell wrong from right, or to avoid seeing hard truths, the book mentions sight in all its forms many times over. Sight is a sense for physically perceiving reality and mentally identifying the truth, but it takes a subjective twist as it moves from character to character. The narrative structure itself is a constantly changing way of seeing things with a different character’s perspective. Catelyn explicitly introduces the motif when she receives Lysa’s hidden message and asks what truth it is that the sender wants them to see more clearly. Bran discovers the truth, and as a result of his deadly knowledge Jaime pushes him through another device for seeing—a window. He begins to dream of the three-eyed crow, which is a creature with an unnatural sense of sight. Eye color is an important detail that reinforces the subjectivity of sight. The royal purple of the Targaryens, the greedy green of the Lannisters, and the dire grey of the Starks represents each family’s character traits and shows that each house has a different way of seeing things. Syrio repeats Catelyn’s lesson when he reminds Arya that she needs to look more closely and see instead of merely watching.
Several of the primary characters in the novel feel themselves to be outsiders. The three most prominent outsiders are Jon Snow, a bastard; Tyrion, a dwarf; Arya, a girl who wants to learn to fight and go on adventures beyond the sewing room, which were traditionally not female pastimes. Each character chafes at the way society views them and dislikes the limitations imposed on them. But there are other outsiders as well. Bran becomes an outsider to some degree after he is paralyzed in the fall. He is no longer able to do the things a boy of his age enjoys doing, and he remains cloistered in his room, apart from the world and aware that his dream of being a knight will not come true. Ned Stark feels himself to be distinctly an outsider when he arrives at King’s Landing. He is not accustomed to the climate of political intrigue and lying and does not feel comfortable in his new role. In each case, the character’s status as an outsider greatly serves to define the character’s image of himself, and it plays a large role in each character’s behavior throughout the novel. For the more mature characters, such as Tyrion and Ned, their roles as outsiders act as a source of strength for them. The younger characters, however, all initially feel their outsider status is a problem, but each begins learning in his or her own way how to turn it into an advantage.
Hands are tools for action, and in A Game of Thrones, they are essential for the performance of one’s duty. The motif is most apparent in Ned’s title as Hand of the King. The title represents how he is unequivocally sworn to advise the king and do his will. The saying goes that what the king dreams, the Hand builds. Hand injuries also recur. Catelyn suffers severe cuts on her hands protecting Bran. Jon sustains serious burns on his hands protecting Commander Mormont. These injuries represent Catelyn and Jon’s self-sacrifice in the performance of their duties. Varys, meanwhile, is constantly rubbing his powdered hands together. It seems an unproductive use of his hands, but it represents his mind at work, scheming.
Westeros is a large continent, but its communications flow remarkably smoothly with the use of ravens. The distinction between a raven and a crow is subtle, but the symbolic difference is not. Physically, a crow is smaller in size, and Old Nan says that crows are all liars. The three-eyed crow in Bran’s dream, despite its supernatural sight, also lies to Bran. Commander Mormont calls the crow the poor cousin to the raven, which is slightly larger in size. In Westeros, ravens carry the truth from one character to another. Often, when someone speaks of a message, they simply refer to the correspondence as a bird. Likewise, Varys calls his spies and informants his birds. While in flight, a bird’s eye view sees everything below it at once, but when it lands, the bird can only relay a message from the sender. Thus the bird motif represents the passing of information from one person to another, and the type of bird indicates something about the validity of that information. The injured raven that brings news of Ned’s death could represent the damaged nature of the truth in its message, since Ned died as a result of his untrue confession.