Comparing The Use Of Light And Dark By Melville, Poe, And Hawthorne

3189 words - 13 pages

Use of Darkness and Light by Melville, Poe, and Hawthorne

Melville, Poe, and Hawthorne all tend to focus on the darker side of humanity in their writings. In order to allow their readers to better understand their opinions, they often resort to using symbolism. Many times, those symbols take the form of darkness and light appearing throughout the story at appropriate times. A reader might wonder how light functions in the stories, and what it urges the reader to consider. If we look carefully at these appearances of light, or more likely the absence of it, we can gain some insight into what these "subversive romantics" consider to be the truth of humanity. Hawthorne uses this technique to its fullest; however, it is also very obvious in the stories of Poe and Melville. All of these authors have something to say about what they perceive as the breakdown of man and society - and they often clue us in by using differing degrees of light.

The presence of darkness and light is probably the most apparent in Hawthorne's pieces, and "Young Goodman Brown" is an excellent example. The story starts off as Young Goodman Brown begins his trip into the forest, away from his wife, Faith. The first presence of light is in the first sentence: "Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset ...." Now, there is light in the sun, but the significance lies in the fact that the sun is setting. The brightness in life - that is, the goodness of humanity that once existed, is now being taken over by the darkness. YGB then departs down a "dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest." There is no mistaking this for anything but a symbol. YGB, representing all man, is going down a "narrow path" leading into one of the darkest and scariest places. What darkness is he really talking about? For Hawthorne, this darkness lies somewhere in the pit of man's soul - what he calls the unpardonable sin. Melville explained in his essay "Hawthorne and his Mosses": "this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free." Melville is claiming that this is a part of Hawthorne the man, but this undoubtedly carries over into his work as well.


If this wasn't enough symbolism, Hawthorne soon introduces us to the people that YGB encounters on his journey. In his book "Power of Darkness," Levin suggests that in this piece, the darkness is symbolic of "the deep mystery of sin"(54). The people who are representative of the sins are those who are cloaked in darkness, and who appear "grave and dark-clad" to the reader - the elder witches. Considering that the story deals with the loss of faith replaced by doubt (Levin, 54), we can only assume that these dark clothed characters represent the sin that humanity has brought upon itself. YGB has been drawn to the sin, but hasn't yet partaken...

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