The Stark Sisters: Contrasts & Parallels
Sometimes her sleep was leaden and dreamless, and she woke from it more tired than when she had closed her eyes. Yet those were the best times, for when she dreamed, she dreamed of Father…Perhaps I will die too, she told herself, and the thought did not seem so terrible to her. (Sansa VI, AGoT)
Some mornings Arya did not want to wake at all. She would huddle beneath her cloak with her eyes squeezed shut and try to will herself back to sleep. If the Hound would only have left her alone, she would have slept all day and all night. And dreamed. That was the best part, the dreaming. She dreamed of wolves most every night. (Arya XII, ASoS)
After Ned’s execution Sansa falls into despondency. Sansa cries for days, she doesn’t eat or bathe, she doesn’t leave her room and she even considers killing herself. Her dreams are laden with images of her father’s murder and she prefers her dreamless nights because they give her more peace than her nightmares. Lady is dead, so is Ned. The rest of her family are far away and she’s not sure what’s become of Arya. She’s trapped in a prison of grief and soon enough she’ll realise that the Red Keep is to be her new cage.
This is a contrast to Arya who, although she is also a captive, falls into a different sort of grief after the Red Wedding. She is silent, she feels empty and numb and she doesn’t want to be awake anymore. Her dreams however are filled with wolves. In her dreams she is big, strong, fast and she answers to no one. She has a big pack; a family who would never abandon her and those are really the only moments in which she doesn’t feel alone. Her wolf dreams are a source of strength and a constant reaffirmation of her identity. It doesn’t completely alleviate her emptiness but for a girl in who a big part of her story is survival in the wild, her loyal wolf pack represents that fierce and survivalist energy that she has to adapt to in order to survive.
Joffrey was dead, he was dead, he was dead, dead, dead. Why was she crying, when she wanted to dance? Were they tears of joy? … Robb had died at a wedding feast as well. It was Robb she wept for. (Sansa V, ASoS)
Arya edged farther into the room. Joffrey’s dead. She could almost see him, with his blond curls and his mean smile and his fat soft lips. Joffrey’s dead! She knew it ought to make her happy, but somehow she still felt empty inside. Joffrey was dead, but if Robb was dead too, what did it matter? (Arya VIII, ASoS)
Conflicting feelings arise for both girls at the death of Joffery. Sansa watched him call for her father’s death after he promised her mercy and she was the main recipient of his torment and so she loathes him but she still weeps at his death. She cries because it was a horrible image, Joffery clawing at his throat and tearing at his own skin. She cries too because it also brings up memories of Robb who was also killed at a wedding.
Conversely, Arya still hates Joffery for Ned’s death and she still remembers the part he played in the death of Mycah and Lady. She too thinks she should be happy that he’s dead but in the end it rings hollow because her brother died too.
Both girls still had some naive faith that Robb would storm King’s Landing, kill the monster and that they would finally be safe and be able to go home. None of this came to be and instead Catelyn and Robb ended up in their graves killing any hope either girl had in ever being safe again. They can’t celebrate Joffery’s death because it doesn’t undo every loss and hurt he’s caused them and neither girl is able to reconcile the idea of rejoicing in the death of an enemy when Robb, Catelyn, Ned and Bran and Rickon (or so they believe) lay dead.
Swinging the doll by the legs, he knocked the top off one gatehouse tower and then the other. It was more than Sansa could stand. “Robert, stop that.” Instead he swung the doll again, and a foot of wall exploded. She grabbed for his hand but she caught the doll instead. There was a loud ripping sound as the thin cloth tore. Suddenly she had the doll’s head, Robert had the legs and body, and the rag-and-sawdust stuffing was spilling in the snow. (Sansa VII, ASoS)
And there was one girl who took to following her, the village elder’s daughter. She was of an age with Arya, but just a child; she cried if she skinned a knee, and carried a stupid cloth doll with her everywhere she went. The doll was made up to look like a man-at-arms, sort of, so the girl called him Ser Soldier and bragged how he kept her safe. “Go away,” Arya told her half a hundred times. “Just leave me be.” She wouldn’t, though, so finally Arya took the doll away from her, ripped it open, and pulled the rag stuffing out of its belly with a finger. “Now he really looks like a soldier!” she said, before she threw the doll in a brook. (Arya XII, ASoS)
This was particularly interesting to me because children taking out their traumas on toys is actually pretty common. Sansa who has seen her father beheaded, accidentally ripping off the head of a doll and Arya who has witnessed all the horrors of wars reenacting a soldier being disemboweled on a doll. I think it’s important to note that while they could have taken their rage out on the children themselves they hurt dolls instead, inanimate objects.
They are children, Sansa thought. They are silly little girls, even Elinor. They’ve never seen a battle, they’ve never seen a man die, they know nothing. Their dreams were full of songs and stories, the way hers had been before Joffrey cut her father’s head off. Sansa pitied them. Sansa envied them. (Sansa II, ASoS)
A whooping gang of small children went running past, chasing a rolling hoop. Arya stared at them with resentment, remembering the times she’d played at hoops with Bran and Jon and their baby brother Rickon. (Arya V, AGoT)
For Sansa, constantly subjected to torment and abuse and for Arya, starving and scared on the streets of Flea Bottom after fleeing from the Red Keep, they are reminded of the children they used to be and of the childhood they so desperately wish they could regain. From two children who have had their childhoods ripped away from them, and quite cruelly too I might add, we see some natural resentment towards children who are allowed to be just that, children.
Ser Arys offered his arm and she let him lead her from her chamber. If she must have one of the Kingsguard dogging her steps, Sansa preferred that it be him. … Arys Oakheart was courteous, and would talk to her cordially. Once he even objected when Joffrey commanded him to hit her. He did hit her in the end, but not hard as Ser Meryn or Ser Boros might have, and at least he had argued. (Sansa I, ACoK)
She bit her lip. “I—”
He slapped her.
The blow left her cheek stinging, but she knew that she had earned it. “Thank you.” Enough slaps, and she might stop chewing on her lip. (The Ugly Little Girl, ADWD)
They both internalise their abuse in different ways and either way it is very sad. With Sansa believing that Arys is not so bad because he doesn’t hit her as hard as the others. (He is. He could have refused.) And Arya deciding that she deserves to be hit (She doesn’t) in order to learn a lesson. Both reactions are very common in abuse survivors and I don’t think it can be stated enough that both girls have suffered tremendous abuse and trauma and there are actually some similarities in how they deal with the things they’ve faced.
These aren’t all their parallels by a long shot but these are the ones that I don’t see a lot of discussion about.
Arya and Sansa have a complicated relationship and a past full of bullying, resentments and disappointments. When they reunite there is going to be friction, GRRM himself said that they have issues they need to work out and while we can all be certain it won’t be the poorly written disaster that it is in the show, it certainly won’t be easy. But Sansa is still part of Arya’s pack and whatever they have to work through they need each other to succeed or as good ol’ Ned once said:
Sansa is your sister. You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you … and I need both of you, gods help me. (Arya II, AGoT)