Monday, 10 June 2013

2. 'Sometimes prayers are answered'

[Spoilers through the first half of Storm of Swords and Season 3 of the TV series; very slight spoilers for A Feast for Crows] This post uses some material from my earlier post on Arya and Cat, which has spoilers for all five books.

The similarities between Catelyn and Arya are obvious, although their different life stages obscure their essential likeness on a first reading. In brief, Catelyn has learnt to subdue her rebellious, impulsive nature, and in general, acts rationally, pragmatically, and not from the heart. However, when Catelyn does act emotionally, which happens a handful of times over the course of the novels, her kinship to Arya becomes clear. On the other hand, Arya is like Catelyn in a state of nature, having, for better or worse, not yet learnt to discipline her emotions and accept social norms. The major positive behaviour that both Catelyn and Arya share is an ability to think on their feet and react swiftly to perceived threats, whereas Sansa and Ned, in contrast, often flounder in a crisis and are unable to act. Catelyn demonstrates this ability in her response to Bran’s attacker [GOT, 133]; in her desperate arrest of Tyrion [GOT, 292]; and in her last-ditch attempt to save Robb’s life [SOS, 703]. Arya does the same in her escape from the Red Keep [GOT, 536]; her handling of the Jaqen situation [COK, 500]; and her escape from Harrenhal [COK, 661].

Both Catelyn and Arya are also naturally impatient with social norms, although Catelyn has learnt to conform to such regulations when it is necessary. Although often mischaracterised as a snobby noblewoman, Cat is actually uninterested in her own appearance, clothing, or courtesies, and seems to have no problem talking to smallfolk – she has clear memories of Masha Heddle, who in turn remembers her fondly, and rebukes Edmure when he misremembers the name of an old woman, Violet, who used to visit Riverrun [SOS, 36]. She also strikes up friendly conversation with Mya Stone, despite her unease over the memories of Jon that the girl provokes [GOT, 369] Indeed, Catelyn often shocks the men around her by her forthright behaviour, contravening expectations of what is considered ‘ladylike.’ She spares no thought for her nakedness in front of Maester Luwin when they receive Lysa’s letter, rightly stating that the political situation is more important than considerations of modesty in front of a man who has delivered all five of her children [GOT, 62]. When Ser Rodrik attempts to delicately summarise Petyr Baelish’s interest in Catelyn, Catelyn is ‘past delicacy’ and baldly sums up the situation [GOT, 167]. As already noted, she is willing to take Brienne into her service, and dismisses Renly’s and Stannis’s petty arguments over titles, pointing out that there are more important things to worry about than terms of address [COK, 253]. When Edmure doesn’t want to mention what he was up to last night in front of his sister, she again rejects ideas of female modesty: “You were whoring or wenching. Get on with the tale.” [COK, 414].
Arya, too, often rejects social norms, although the difference between her and Cat is that she is often unaware of why they are considered important in the first place, which can lead her into trouble. Like Catelyn, she is at ease with the smallfolk and commendably impatient with distinctions of rank, continually making the case that Mycah’s death matters, even though he was ‘only’ a butcher’s boy. However, her lack of understanding of the way society works can lead to problems, such as her failure to assess the danger posed by attacking the crown prince, and her inability to comprehend Gendry’s position [COK, 497]. This means that Arya often exhibits a lack of realism in situations where Sansa, for example, would be much more realistic, even though she is in many ways more pragmatic and sensible than her sister. A particularly interesting example is sexual behaviour. We know that Catelyn is realistic about men’s fidelity from her early thoughts on bastards [GOT, 65] but, in this context, Arya still retains a very romantic view of life. When the topic of Ned’s extra-marital relationships is raised, Arya refuses to listen: ‘he loved my lady mother... She was the only one he loved.’ [SOS, 598]. This stands in contrast to Sansa’s lack of reaction to hearing that Catelyn might have had pre-marital sex [FFC, 186] and to Lyanna’s realism about her marriage to Robert [GOT, 379]. As this indicates, both sisters are unrealistic and romantic in their own ways, while Catelyn, unsurprisingly given her twenty or more additional years of life experience, largely combines their strengths, although she can be shortsighted, as in her initial reaction to Brienne.
A final illuminating point of comparison between Arya and Cat is their recognition of the power of the gods, magic and prophecy. While Sansa is obviously enthralled by stories, she seems more interested in knightly valour and romantic deeds than in the supernatural. As early as Clash, she reacts suspiciously to Tyrion’s comment (about Ned’s execution) that ‘the gods are cruel’, thinking ‘It wasn’t the gods who’d been cruel, it was Joffrey.’ [COK, 37]. By Feast, she declares “Curses are only in songs and stories.” [FFC, 415] This lack of interest in magic is a quality that Sansa shares with Ned; however, it is Catelyn’s faith in superstition, rather than Ned’s realism, that is useful in the world of Westeros. When Catelyn sees the dead mother direwolf, her reaction is telling. Ned dismisses both the portent and Catelyn’s fears of the Others, and so ‘Dread coiled inside her like a snake, but she forced herself to smile at this man she loved, this man who put no faith in signs.’ [GOT, 25-6] Later on, she is the one who tells Robb to listen to Grey Wind’s warnings, while Robb, taking after his father, ignores his direwolf until it is too late, and she is also rightfully suspicious of the cursed Harrenhal. Arya, too, seems willing to believe in signs and prophecies, certainly more so than Sansa, and this is a quality it seems will serve her well. However, the downside of Catelyn’s and Arya’s supersitious bent is when they seem to believe in ‘fate’ or ‘just deserts’, and blame themselves for events they have not control over. Catelyn thinks she is responsible for Bran’s fall, telling Jon in the infamous ‘It should have been you’ scene that “I wanted him to stay here with me... I prayed for it... He was my special boy... Sometimes prayers are answered.’ [GOT, 95]. Similarly, Arya is guilty over Mycah, although her arguments here have slightly more grounding in reality.“I asked Mycah to practise with me... I asked him. It was my fault, it was me...’ [GOT, 221] Arya's 'hit list' of names also darkly mirrors Catelyn's belief in the power of prayer.

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