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color-symbolism-in-literatureDifferent Hues in Narratives

Color Symbolism in Literature has been around for centuries. Colors are used to describe the nature of items or to help the reader develop a specific sentiment about the object or scene. Colors can be used to develop a person's personality when the author takes the time to describe the color of someones clothes. An author can even create certain feelings about the day or night in the scene by the colors they use to describe it. Symbolism is the heart of literature and color is one type of symbolism used.

The Basis for Color Symbolism in Literature

Let's look at some examples: The devil slowly emerged from the bottomless pit with sharp horns and flames for eyes. If you started picturing the devil as it was being described, did you automatically give it a color? Traditionally the devil has been described as red, red/black, or black in literature so many people will automatically assign one of those colors when they read about the devil. Furthermore, because of this the colors red and black are frequently used to describe violence, evil, or danger.

Another example of color significance: As I lay in the lush bed of green grass, I was mesmerized by the wispy white clouds floating through the bright blue sky. What was in your mind as you read the last sentence? You probably pictured a field or yard with perfect grass, the kind that makes you want to walk barefoot. Then you might have pictured the sky on a beautiful summer day with a few clouds in it. Those items were described literally because the purpose was to use the colors to help develop a mental picture that would create a feeling. The scene probably left you with a feeling of peace and tranquility. Green symbolizes comfort, hope, and a new life while blue symbolizes calm and peacefulness. While color symbolism is frequently used it doesn't always work the way the author intends.

Secret to Color Symbolism

The key to using color symbolism in literatureis that the reader needs to have prior experience to help them interpret the symbols. If you lived in a desert your whole life and had never laid in a bed of plush grass, you wouldn't develop the same feelings about the scene as someone who had this experience. You may have seen it on TV or dreamed about it but you still wouldn't be able to understand the exact feeling the author was trying to create. What if the devil above had been described as red but in your culture red means passion and sensuality? You would actually be put off by the idea of red standing for evil and you wouldn't be able to see the devil as the author wants it to be seen. Symbolism always works this way in literature and this is why books end up meaning different things to different readers.

Color Symbolism in Literature

  • White - Innocence and purity
  • Yellow - New life and new beginnings
  • Brown - Poverty and earth
  • Orange - Fiery and lust
  • Purple - Wealth and royalty
  • Aqua - Coolness and water
  • Black - Mourning and death

Color Symbolism Examples in America

Color symbolism in literaturecan be very tricky. Besides having different meanings for different people based on their cultures or where they live, different combinations have different meanings. In America the combination of red, white, and blue stands for patriotism. Orange and black used together symbolizes Halloween while red and green are frequently used as a symbol of Christmas. Pastel purple, pastel blue, pastel green, pastel pink, and pastel yellow are used to symbolize Easter. Fall is symbolized in literature by describing red, orange, and yellow leaves but if you add brown to the fall colors you end up with Thanksgiving. These color combinations symbolize these things for many Americans but may symbolize something else for other people.

Color symbolism is important in literature because it is one of the only ways that an author can convey feelings. It also allows the author to describe a scene without describing every aspect of the scene. The important thing to remember is that a color symbol will not portray the same thing for everyone and it is OK to develop your own personal meaning from the literature.

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