Sunday, January 26, 2014

When Women Play the Game: Arya Stark



Not Today by Zhang Ke
Often told she looked like a boy, Arya Stark acted the part, too.  Catelyn describes her younger daughter:
“And Arya, well... Ned’s visitors would oft mistake her for a stableboy if they rode into the yard unannounced. Arya was a trial, it must be said. Half a boy and half a wolf pup. Forbid her anything and it became her heart’s desire. She had Ned’s long face, and brown hair that always looked as though a bird had been nesting in it. I despaired of ever making a lady of her. She collected scabs as other girls collect dolls, and would say anything that came into her head. I think she must be dead too.” When she said that, it felt as though a giant hand were squeezing her chest. “I want them all dead, Brienne. Theon Greyjoy first, then Jaime Lannister and Cersei and the Imp, every one, every one.” (A Clash of Kings, Chapter 55)
SPOILERS AHEAD
Arya does not solely relinquish her gender.  Nor does she unsex herself like Lady MacBeth.  She has no need to unsex herself.  Arya can look like a proper girl, given she wears dresses, and she attempts to do ladylike activities, like stitching, and gets frustrated when she can’t do it as well as Sansa.  In the TV show, Tywin Lannister notes her ability to read and speak, an ability she had not fully appreciated prior to leaving Winterfell.  Arya is often mistaken as a boy or told she looks and acts like one, and she even begins to pretend to be one to cover up her identity.  From the beginning, we see her being able to shift gender by a simple change of clothes and change of hair style.  She is an assassin in training before she even knows of the order, sneaking in the shadows, listening to conversations she shouldn’t be hearing.

Cat of the Canals by René Aigner
On Braavos, Arya’s first duty as a trainee is to be a street urchin, discovering secrets, listening to gossip, knowing everything that goes on in Braavos.  But she still refuses to give up her identity of Arya Stark.  She cannot fully become someone else or cast aside any emotional ties she has in order to become an assassin for The Many-Faced God.  Because of her refusal and as punishment for killing a Night’s Watch deserter, she is rewarded with blindness.  At night, Arya yet recites the names of those she will kill in vengeance, in justice.  Still, she clings to the bit of herself called “Needle”, the last vestige of her former life, of her favorite family member Jon Snow, while Nymeria adopts all her revenge, prowling the Riverlands, killing men at night, striking fear throughout the lands.  Indeed the Wolves are wolves, and she’s the dominant wolf in all Westeros, leading a pack of hundreds of wolves.

Arya, despite the requirement to leave her identity behind, is a Stark.  Like her mother mirrors Hoster Tully, Arya mirrors Ned at the beginning.  She takes it into her own hands to execute a deserter, like her father would.  She also maintains a connection with her direwolf Nymeria at night, inhabiting her body, hunting with the pack.  Nymeria finds her mother’s naked, bloated dead body in the river, and Arya knows she’s dead before The Hound tells her.  She seems even more calloused and tough because she had time to grieve before her told her.  There’s a certain element of fear that Arya puts into The Hound.  Nothing shakes him, save for his brother and fire, but Arya can be added to that list the longer he gets to know her.  She, like her mother, is striking fear even in the strongest of hearts in Westeros.  Nymeria’s pack of wolves and Lady Stoneheart’s pack of ragtag bandits are leading guerilla warfare against the Stark and Tully enemies.  As Arya was hellbent on revenge, so was her mother.  Stoneheart is even more hellbent on revenge, while Arya must relinquish her vengeance in order to maintain proper apprenticeship as an assassin of the guild.  Despite her constant comparisons to Ned, it seems she and Catelyn have more in common now.
Valar Morghulis by mustamirri

Like her sister Sansa, Arya defends those who are vulnerable and innocent.  In an attempt to protect her friend Mycah, a working-class boy, Arya stood up to Prince Joffrey and threw his sword in the river and spared his life.  Sansa did the same with the pitiful drunkard Dontos as well as others.  She sticks up for her friends, both noble and common.  She would protect her band of misfits Gendry, Hot Pie, Lemmy, and Weasel.  No matter her size or supposed class, she is argumentative, brazen, and quick-witted.  She will not bend her will, nor her tongue.  She is, though, learning to control her tongue as the books progress and, therefore, learning to control herself.


Previous entries in When Women Play the Game:
Sansa Stark
Brienne Tarth
Daenerys Targaryen
Catelyn Tully Stark

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