Monster vs. Brother: Color and Other Recurring Narrative Strategies

Cult Classics Blog Post 1 Corrections

One of the most intriguing mysteries readers may find themselves pondering while reading “His Face All Red” is the ambiguity surrounding when the murdered brother is the beast, and when he is himself. Emily Caroll uses a number of storytelling devices to facilitate this narrative vagueness including recurring phrases, color selection, and the specific placement of visual indicators.

The poem opens with a dark-red tint coloring the image in the panel. It is revealed to us that this is not the narrator’s brother, and that he had killed his actual brother. We cut to see a goat, a victim of the beast, covered in blood, another occurrence of red. The narrative flashes back to reveal information about the town and the characters, establishing that the narrator is feeble and the brother has all he desires. In referencing the beast’s emergence from the woods, the narrator claims in a parenthetical aside “most strange things do.” Following that, the narrator and his brother go into the woods to hunt the beast. When they locate it, the narrator hides while the brother confronts the wolf off-panel. This is when the dark-red panel shading returns for the first time since flashing back, flooding a panel while the brother kills “the beast,” which turned out to only be a wolf. The dark-red hue returns once again when the narrator makes another parenthetical aside to claim that the villagers would only be grateful “to him (brother).” There is another red flash as the narrator murders his brother off panel. He emerges from the wood, dragging his brother’s corpse behind him with his face covered in blood. This is an occurrence of the dark-red color existing inside the narrative of the piece. The narrator returns home a hero and comfortably slips into a guilt free routine, until his brother emerges from the woods unharmed. Here, there is a return to the phrase “most strange things do,” once in reference to the beast and now in reference to the brother. The panel now tints dark-red whenever the brother is in frame. The narrator cannot sleep and has dreams of his brother’s red, bloody face. In a last attempt to reconcile reality from delusion, the narrator returns to the hole he buried his brother in and finds his corpse with his face still red. The corpse turns and looks the narrator dead in the eyes, and the poem concludes.

The proposed theory, as substantiated by the above evidence, is that the beast became the brother while the narrator was hiding. The narrator uses the parenthetical aside, “most strange things do” to describe the beast’s emergence from the wood, and uses it again when referencing the brother’s emergence. This is a deliberate literary inclusion to indicate the beast’s presence. After the brother returns as the beast, he is seen almost exclusively through a dark-red tinted lens. This is not the only occurrence of red being used to signify the beast throughout the comic. Red blood covers the face of the beast’s first victim, one of the brother’s goats. The screen also flashes red at the deaths of both the wolf and the brother, suggesting that they were also victims of the beast. They both appear with their faces covered in blood. Red is traditionally used in literature to indicate aggression and intensity. The panel turns red during the second parenthetical aside. Essentially, the beast became the brother when the wolf was supposedly killed, using the wolf as a distraction. After the brother/beast is put back into the hole, most likely serving as a lair of some kind due to its return later in the comic, he emerges and returns to the village transformed as the brother. His panels are largely tinted red throughout his encounters with the narrator. When the narrator returns to the hole at the end of the passage, the red returns as he goes further down the hole, only to find the monster, face covered in red, still waiting for him.

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