What does white symbolize in literature? The answer to this question may seem obvious to some, but there is more to this color symbolism than meets the eye. White is often associated with purity, innocence, and goodness. In literature, it is used to represent the same, but it can also be interpreted as a symbol of the hidden meanings, paradox, and even negative associations.
White can easily represent the purity and innocence of a character in literature. For instance, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, the main character, Hester Prynne’s inner purity is represented by her white dress. She wears it when she is in the forest with Dimmesdale, as a symbol of her true self, which is pure and clean. However, this symbolism extends beyond personal purity as white can signify societal goodness. For example, in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, white is used to represent the goodness in the life of Dr. Alexander Manette, who is a virtuous character that always has good intentions.
Despite all the positive associations and implications of white, literature also uses this color to represent hidden meanings and paradox. In her novel, White Teeth, Zadie Smith uses the color white to show the paradoxes of life. The protagonist Archibald Jones, who is half-Jamaican and half-English dresses only in white after he nearly drowns in the Thames. This use of white symbolizes the paradox of the British character, which is both pure and complex. In essence, white has been used to symbolize more than just purity and innocence in literature. It’s a color that brings a deeper meaning to the text.
White as purity and innocence
In literature, the color white is often used to symbolize purity and innocence. This association dates back to ancient times, where it was linked to the idea of spiritual cleanliness and divine grace. Its connotation of purity, sterility, and blankness has been used to convey many different themes and emotions in literature. Below are some examples of how white symbolizes purity and innocence in literature:
- White clothing: Characters wearing white clothing often represent purity, innocence, and a lack of corruption. For example, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” the main character Hester Prynne wears a white dress when she meets with the town’s religious leaders, indicating her purity of spirit despite her adulterous past.
- White animals: In literature, white animals are often associated with purity and innocence. For example, in “Moby-Dick,” the white whale Moby-Dick is an emblem of purity and innocence, while the hunt for him by Ahab and his crew represents the corrupting influence of revenge.
- White settings: Settings with a preponderance of white, such as snow-covered landscapes or white rooms, can also symbolize innocence and purity. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the white façade of Gatsby’s house is meant to convey his innocence and purity of spirit, despite his association with the corrupt world of the wealthy.
White can also be used to convey the absence of color and meaning, as in a blank page or canvas. This blankness can symbolize the potential for creation and purity, as well as confusion and emptiness. In Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” the blankness of the stage and the characters’ inability to make meaning represents the futility and uncertainty of existence.
|The Scarlet Letter
|Hester Prynne’s white clothing represents her purity of spirit despite her adulterous past.
|The white whale Moby-Dick symbolizes purity and innocence.
|The Great Gatsby
|F. Scott Fitzgerald
|The white façade of Gatsby’s house represents his innocence and purity of spirit, despite his association with corrupt behavior.
Overall, white as a symbol of purity and innocence has been used throughout literature to convey a variety of themes and emotions. Whether it is in clothing, animals, or settings, white can express both the potential for creation and purity, as well as confusion and emptiness.
White as a representation of death and mourning
In literature, white is often used as a symbol of death and mourning. This association with death may have originated from the color of funeral shrouds and the traditional mourning dress. In addition, white is often associated with emptiness and nothingness, similar to the void of death.
- In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Queen Gertrude wears white during her remarriage to King Claudius, only two months after her first husband’s death. This symbolizes her lack of grief and respect for her dead husband.
- In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, the character Pearl is often associated with the color white, representing the loss of her innocence and the shame and guilt of her parents’ sin.
- In Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” the white hills in the background symbolize the looming possibility of the male character’s death, as they resemble the shape of a pregnant woman lying on her back like a corpse.
White can also be used to symbolize the acceptance of death and the peace that comes with it. For example, in E.B. White’s beloved children’s book Charlotte’s Web, the main character, a spider named Charlotte, weaves the word “terrific” in her web using her own silk as a gift to her friend, the pig Wilbur, before dying. The word is a symbol of her acceptance of death and her wish for Wilbur to live a happy and fulfilling life.
Overall, white’s association with death and mourning in literature is complex and multifaceted, and its interpretation depends on the context and themes of the work.
White as a symbol of hope and redemption
White has long been associated with purity, innocence, and goodness, making it a natural symbol of hope and redemption in literature. Throughout various works of literature, white has been used as a symbol to represent characters’ journeys to redemption, the attainment of hope, and the possibility of renewal.
- Purity in Redemption: White often serves as a symbol of purity, making it an apt choice for characters who seek redemption or spiritual cleansing. For example, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” the character of Pearl wears white clothing when she brings her mother Hester to accept her A on her chest, symbolizing her hope for Hester’s redemption and her own purity.
- Hope in Despair: White also has been used to symbolize hope in times of despair, such as in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” The unnamed father and son’s journey towards the hope of a better life is often marked by their encounters with white, from the white light of a flare they find in a house to the white ash covering everything in a devastated landscape.
- Renewal and Rebirth: Finally, white can also represent the possibility of renewal and rebirth, as seen in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” The character of Beloved, who represents the memory of slavery and the need for redemption, is described as having white features and wearing a white dress. Her appearance symbolizes her ability to embody the hope for renewal and the possibility of rebirth for the novel’s other characters.
Overall, white serves many purposes as a symbol of hope and redemption in literature. Whether it represents the purity of redemption, the hope of a better life, or the possibility of renewal and rebirth, white offers authors a versatile and powerful symbol to use in their works.
White can be seen representing hope and possibility in a wide range of literature, from classic novels to contemporary works. Through its use as a symbol of renewal, purity, and innocence, white offers readers a way to connect with characters who are seeking redemption and ultimately, to share in their journey towards hope and possibility.
|Purity, innocence, or the possibility of redemption
|The hope of a better life or the possibility of renewal
|The embodiment of hope or the possibility of rebirth
Authors can use these different meanings of white as a tool to convey deep emotions and ideas with only a few carefully placed words. As a symbol of hope and redemption, white proves to be a timeless and effective literary device, drawing readers into characters’ journeys and helping them to connect with the novel’s themes on a profound level.
White as a Representation of Emptiness and Nothingness
In literature, the color white is often used as a representation of emptiness and nothingness. This symbolic meaning can be seen across different genres and time periods, and it has been interpreted in various ways by literary critics and scholars.
- One interpretation of white as emptiness is its use in settings. White backgrounds and empty spaces are often used to create a sense of nothingness or void, emphasizing the absence of anything significant in a particular scene or setting.
- In addition to settings, white can also be used to describe characters or objects in a way that emphasizes their lack of substance or presence. For example, a character dressed in all white may be interpreted as empty or lacking in personality.
- In some cases, white may also be used to represent death or the afterlife, as it is often associated with the idea of purity and transcendence. In this way, white can be seen as a symbol of nothingness, but also as a symbol of transcendence or spiritual liberation.
Further exploring the use of white as a symbol of emptiness and nothingness, we can explore its use in two well-known literary works: Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”
In “Waiting for Godot,” the use of white in the setting suggests an emptiness that emphasizes the existential themes of the play. The characters are waiting for something to happen, but ultimately nothing does and they are left in a state of perpetual emptiness and boredom. White also appears in the dialogue, with words like “blanket,” “whiteness,” and “nothing to be done” emphasizing the nothingness that surrounds the characters.
In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” white is used to describe the empty spaces in the café, emphasizing the lack of anything significant happening in the setting. The café represents a safe haven from the darkness and chaos of the world outside, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the white space also represents a sense of emptiness and nothingness that the characters are trying to escape from.
|Use of White Symbolism
|Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”
|White in the setting suggests an emptiness that emphasizes the existential themes of the play. White also appears in the dialogue, emphasizing the nothingness that surrounds the characters.
|Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
|White is used to describe the empty spaces in the café, emphasizing the lack of anything significant happening in the setting. The white space also represents a sense of emptiness and nothingness that the characters are trying to escape from.
In conclusion, white symbolism in literature has been interpreted in various ways, but one of its main representations is emptiness and nothingness. This symbolic meaning can be seen in different genres and time periods, and it is often used to create a sense of void or lack of substance in settings and characters. Through the exploration of two well-known literary works, we can see how white symbolism is used to emphasize existential themes and the sense of emptiness that characters are experiencing.
White as a symbol of divinity or holiness
In literature, the color white is often used to symbolize purity, divinity, and holiness. The color is associated with light, which is often associated with goodness and purity. White is also often used to symbolize the divine, as it is associated with heavenly beings and celestial bodies.
- Angels and heavenly beings are often depicted wearing white robes, signifying their purity and divine nature. In the Bible, Jesus is also often depicted wearing white robes, symbolizing his divinity.
- The white dove is often used to symbolize the Holy Spirit in Christian literature, representing purity, peace, and divinity.
- In Hindu literature, the color white is associated with divinity and purity. The goddess Saraswati, who is the patron of learning and knowledge, is often depicted wearing white clothes.
The color white is also often used to symbolize holiness and redemption in literature. In the Harry Potter series, the white stag is a symbol of protection and divinity, appearing to Harry as a guiding force in times of need. Similarly, in the epic poem Beowulf, Grendel’s mother is described as living in a hall “under the gray rock, under the windy cliffs, where a man, earlier, had given up the ghost of his life, his body to the keeping of cliffs and the care of wild birds—just as, a hundred seasons before, the flood had swept them away.” However, the hall itself is described as being “gleaming and bright” and “inlaid with gold.” The brightness of the hall, despite the darkness of the surrounding area, symbolizes its holiness and significance to the characters in the poem.
|Divinity, purity, peace
|Purity, holiness, divinity
In conclusion, the color white is a powerful symbol of divinity and holiness in literature. It represents purity, redemption, and protection, and is often associated with heavenly beings and celestial bodies. Whether used to depict angels, goddesses, or protective spirits, the color white is a universal symbol of the divine and the holy.
White as a representation of peace and tranquility
White is often associated with peace and tranquility. In literature, it can be used to create a sense of calmness or serenity. Its symbolic meaning can be traced back to ancient times, where it was believed that white represented purity and innocence.
One of the most famous examples of this representation is in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The white color of the marlin left a sense of awe in the protagonist, Santiago, and it inspired in him a feeling of respect and admiration for nature’s beauty.
White can also be used to represent new beginnings or a fresh start. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the character of Daisy is often associated with the color white. This represents her being seen as pure and innocent, despite her role in causing destruction to those around her. However, the white color here can also represent the beginning of a new life, as Daisy eventually leaves her husband and starts anew with Gatsby.
Examples of how white represents peace and tranquility in literature
- In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Holden describes his sister Phoebe’s appearance as “about as peaceful-looking as they come”
- Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse uses white to represent peace and tranquility when describing the landscape: “The view was extraordinarily peaceful. The sea hardly murmured.”
- In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the character of Ophelia wears a white dress when she dies, which symbolizes her innocence and purity, despite her tragic end.
The use of white in a table
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the use of the white letter “A” on Hester Prynne’s chest represents her being seen as a symbol of purity and innocence. This is in contrast to the actual sin and immorality that led to her punishment.
|Symbolic Use of White
|The Old Man and the Sea
|Represents the beauty and awe-inspiring nature of the marlin
|The Great Gatsby
|F. Scott Fitzgerald
|Represents the pure and innocent image of Daisy, but also symbolizes new beginnings
|The white dress Ophelia wears represents her innocence and purity, despite her tragic end
The use of white in literature can have varied meanings and symbolism. However, its most common association with peace and tranquility is a powerful tool in creating a sense of calmness and serenity within a reader. As seen in the examples outlined above, white can also be used to represent new beginnings or a fresh start. Its versatility and symbolic power make it a crucial element in the literary world.
White as a symbol of conformity and rigidity
White is sometimes used in literature to represent the rigid and confining aspects of society. It is often associated with structures and institutions that uphold tradition and resist change.
One possible explanation for this symbolism is the fact that white is often associated with cleanliness and purity. Institutions that uphold tradition often emphasize cleanliness and orderliness as a way of maintaining their authority and legitimacy. As a result, white can be used to symbolize the strict rules and regulations that these institutions impose upon their members.
- In George Orwell’s “1984,” the white of the Party’s flag represents the complete conformity and uniformity of the society it enforces.
- In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” the Puritan society is represented by a cold, rigid worldview that fetishizes strict adherence to its rules.
- In Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights,” Catherine’s ghost is often described as wearing a white dress, symbolizing the ways in which she was constrained by societal expectations and norms.
White can also be used to represent the sterile and lifeless aspects of conformity. In its emphasis on cleanliness and orderliness, white can sometimes erase the messiness and complexity of human experience. This can be seen in the way that white is often associated with hospitals and other medical institutions, which strive to eliminate all traces of disease and disorder.
Overall, white as a symbol of conformity and rigidity can be a powerful way for authors to critique the social institutions that impose strict rules on individuals. It can also serve as a powerful reminder of the ways in which these rules can stifle creativity and individuality.
|Use of White as Symbolism
|“1984” by George Orwell
|The white of the Party’s flag represents the complete conformity and uniformity of the society it enforces.
|“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
|The Puritan society is represented by a cold, rigid worldview that fetishizes strict adherence to its rules.
|“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte
|Catherine’s ghost is often described as wearing a white dress, symbolizing the ways in which she was constrained by societal expectations and norms.
White as a symbol of conformity and rigidity can be a powerful tool for literary critics to explore the ways in which institutions impose strict rules and regulations on individuals. By drawing attention to these structures and systems, authors can encourage readers to question the status quo and imagine new possibilities for the future.
White as a representation of the upper class and privilege
In literature, white has often been used as a symbolic color to represent the upper class and privilege. This symbolism is based on the historical association of white with wealth, purity, and perfection.
Throughout history, white has been a color that has been associated with the rich and powerful. Wealthy individuals in ancient times would often wear white robes to signify their high status, and this association has continued in literature. Often, white represents a sense of purity and perfection which people associate with the upper class and privilege.
- In the novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the character Daisy Buchanan wears predominantly white clothing to symbolize her wealth, status, and privilege. Her white clothing is a way of showing off her wealth and the fact that she is above everyone else.
- In the play “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams, the character Blanche DuBois wears white clothing to symbolize her supposed purity and innocence. This symbolism is used to contrast with the reality of her troubled past and present.
- In “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the character Hester Prynne’s punishment for adultery is to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her clothing. However, the character Pearl, who is the product of Hester’s adultery, is often dressed in white. This symbolism is used to represent Pearl’s purity and innocence, despite her connection to her mother’s sin.
White as a representation of the upper class and privilege is also evident in visual art. For example, portraits of wealthy individuals throughout history often depict them wearing white clothing. This representation of white as a symbol of the elite and powerful continues to this day, and it is evident in advertising, where the use of white is often associated with luxury and high-end products.
|wealth, purity, perfection, high status, privilege
Overall, white as a symbol of wealth and privilege has been a recurring theme in literature and art. It represents a sense of perfection and purity that is associated with the upper class. While this symbolism is based on historical associations, it is still prevalent in modern culture and continues to be used in visual art, literature, and advertising today.
White as a symbol of colonialism and imperialism
In literature, white has often been used to represent colonialism and imperialism. This was especially true during the period of European colonization in Africa and Asia. At this time, white was often associated with the superiority of the European powers over the indigenous populations.
- White was used to represent the purity and innocence of the colonial powers.
- It also represented the privilege and power that came with being of European descent.
- This symbolism was used repeatedly to justify the colonization and exploitation of native peoples.
The use of white to symbolize colonialism and imperialism is evident in literature of the time. For example, Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” uses white as a symbol of the darkness and corruption that lies beneath the surface of European imperialism. The white colonizers are portrayed as savage and corrupt, whereas the native people are depicted as innocent and pure.
This symbolism is further reinforced through the use of language. Words such as “civilized” and “barbaric” were frequently used to describe the European colonizers and the native populations, respectively. These words further reinforced the idea of white superiority and the justification for colonization.
|Power and privilege of the European colonizers
|Innocence and purity as victims of European colonization
Today, the use of white to symbolize colonialism and imperialism has come under scrutiny. Many argue that this symbolism reinforces harmful and racist ideas about people of color. However, the historical significance of this symbolism should not be ignored. It is important to acknowledge the ways in which literature has been used to shape and reinforce harmful ideologies, including those related to white supremacy.
White as a representation of technological progress and sophistication
White has long been associated with technological progress and sophistication in literature. The color white is often used to represent the clean, sleek aesthetic of modern technology. As the world has become more technologically advanced, the use of white in literature has evolved to reflect this progress. Here are a few examples:
- In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the futuristic world of the firemen is described as being “starkly clean, a virgin white.” The use of white in this context is meant to represent the sterilized, controlled environment that the characters inhabit.
- In J.G. Ballard’s novel Crash, the protagonist becomes obsessed with the aesthetics of modern car crashes. He describes the twisted metal and shattered glass as being “like sculpture in white light.” Here, the use of white is meant to represent the cold, calculated beauty of modern technology.
- In William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the hero enters cyberspace through a portal that is described as “a pale, translucent oval.” The use of white in this context represents the clean, minimalist design of the technology that transports the hero into this virtual world.
As you can see, the use of white in literature is often tied to technological progress and sophistication. It represents the sleek, modern aesthetic that is associated with advanced technology. But white isn’t always used in a positive context. In some cases, it can also represent the dehumanizing effects of technology, or the sterile, lifeless world that can result from too much reliance on machines. So while white may be associated with progress and sophistication, it’s important to remember that it can also have a darker side.
To further emphasize the importance of white as a symbol of technological progress and sophistication, the table below showcases the use of color white in some classic literature:
|The pursuit of the white whale symbolizes the quest for knowledge and progress.
|The Great Gatsby
|The color white is used to represent the opulence and excess of the wealthy characters.
|A Clockwork Orange
|The white uniforms worn by the police symbolize their cold, mechanized approach to law enforcement.
|The white walls and clothes worn by the characters symbolize the sterile, controlled environment of the digital world.
Through the use of white as a symbol, authors are able to convey complex themes and ideas related to technology and progress. Whether it’s representing the cold, sterile environment of a futuristic world, or the opulent excess of the wealthy elite, white has become a powerful tool in the literary arsenal of writers exploring the impact of technology on our lives.
FAQs: What Does White Symbolize in Literature?
1. What does white symbolize in literature?
White can symbolize purity, innocence, clarity, and emptiness, depending on the context and the author’s intention.
2. How is white used in literature?
White can be used as a color code, a metaphor, or a symbol, to convey a feeling, an idea, or a theme, such as redemption, transcendence, or loss.
3. What are some examples of white symbolism in literature?
Examples of white symbolism in literature include: the white whale in Moby-Dick, the white dress in The Great Gatsby, the white flag in war stories, the white dove in religious texts, and the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.
4. Is white always positive in literature?
No, white can also symbolize negative or ambivalent concepts, such as death, anonymity, or erasure, depending on the context and the cultural background.
5. How does white relate to other colors in literature?
White can contrast or complement other colors, such as black, red, or green, to create a visual or emotional effect, such as tension, harmony, or irony.
6. What is the cultural significance of white in literature?
White has different cultural significances in different literary traditions and societies, such as in Western literature, white is associated with purity and virtue, while in African literature, white can represent colonialism and oppression.
7. What is the relevance of white symbolism in contemporary literature?
White symbolism is still relevant in contemporary literature, as authors continue to explore the power and the limitations of white as a symbol, and to challenge its connotations and assumptions in a multicultural and diverse world.
Closing Thoughts: Thanks for Reading Our White Symbolism in Literature Guide
We hope you enjoyed reading our FAQs about what white symbolizes in literature and found them useful and informative. White symbolism is a fascinating and complex topic, and we hope we have piqued your curiosity and stimulated your imagination. Feel free to explore more literature guides on our website, and don’t hesitate to contact us with feedback or questions. Thanks for your attention, and we look forward to seeing you soon!