Mare wears mismatched earrings throughout the course of the novel. Even as her life changes dramatically, the earrings anchor her to her past, symbolizing her background growing up in the Stilts with a poor Red family. The earrings are significant to Mare not because they are valuable but because they were given to her by her three brothers, Bree, Tramy, and Shade. All three have been conscripted for army service by the time the novel begins. It has become a family tradition for each to give a set of cheap earrings to Mare and her younger sister, Gisa, by which to remember them. Three times now, Mare has pierced her and Gisa’s ears so that they each have one earring from each brother. Significantly, Mare’s poor piercing ability usually causes their ears to drip red blood afterwards, visibly marking Mare and Gisa as members of the lower class. Even after the bleeding has stopped, the earrings linger to represent the fact that Mare and Gisa bleed red.
When Mare leaves her home and goes to live at Summerton, she does not have any earrings to give Gisa. She has been saving up for a set to give her sister when she is conscripted at age eighteen, but her move to the royal palace happens a year earlier than this. Instead, Mare must simply tell Gisa that she loves her and hope that her sister remembers her. Mare’s anxiety about the tenuousness of her relationship with her family manifests in her refusal to let the royal maids take her earrings; she allows them to otherwise make her over entirely, but she retains this symbol of her true background. Her desperate clinging to the earrings offsets her inability to provide such a tangible symbol of her relationship with Gisa. By adopting the role of a Silver and living in the royal palace, Mare is risking not only her life but also her connection to her sister and the life they have shared.