Chiaroscuro in The Scarlet Letter and "The Fall of the House of Usher"
Mother, said little Pearl, the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. In Nathaniel Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne has committed the sin of adultery and wears a scarlet A on her chest to condemn her. Hawthorne develops the personalities of Hester Prynne, Pearl, and Arthur Dimmesdale by using the function of light and dark images in his writing. In Edgar Allan Poes The Fall of The House of Usher, the House of Usher is presented in the eyes of the narrator as a dark, foreboding house, and in an effort to reason in order to see things in a brighter light, looks into a mirror, but looking back at him are the eye-like windows of that dark and gloomy house.
Poe uses chiaroscuro to express light images of the subject and then turn them into dark parallels. Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses the literary device of Chiaroscuro to represent the development of his characters while similarly Poe uses the technique in The Fall of the House of Usher to develop his gloomy themes and somber settings.
Hawthorne uses chiaroscuro to show Hester Prynne as a woman whose sin has overtaken her, and made her impure. One example of this is: The mothersmedium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life; and however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold, the fiery luster, the black shadow, and the untempered light, of the intervening substance. This quote shows that Hesters sin was so powerful, that it had absorbed into Pearl even before she was born. Another quote that shows the depth of Hesters sin is: The light lingered about the lonely child, as if glad of such a playmate, until her mother had drawn most nigh enough to step into the magic circle toothe sunshine vanished. The quote shows that even the sunshine discriminates and knows Hesters impurity. Hawthorne brings out Hesters strength by having to deal with the shame and weight of her sin.
Hawthorne illustrates Pearl as gorgeous and radiant using chiaroscuro. Pearls own proper beauty, shining through the gorgeous robes which might have extinguished a paler loveliness, that there was an absolute circle of radiance around her, on the darksome cottage-floor. This suggests that Pearls radiance was so great that it lit up the things around her. Another example of her beauty shown through chiaroscuro is: Pearl stood, looking so stedfastly at them through the dim medium of the forest-gloom, herself, meanwhile, all glorified with a ray of sunshine. This portrays that even though the forest and people around her appear gloomy, she remains luminescent. In addition, The light lingered about the lonely child, as if glad of such a playmate, until her mother had drawn most nigh enough to step into the magic circle toothe sunshine vanished. The sunshine discriminates against Pearls mother and others because they are impure and not worthy of its light.
Minister Dimmesdale is portrayed as a feeble man through Hawthornes use of chiaroscuro. Both Arthur and Hester must carry their guilt, and never get over the weight of the sin; however, The Minister is not as strong of a person as Hester and physically emaciates. The shadow of Dimmesdales figure which the sunlight cast upon the floor, was tremulous with the vehemence of his appeal. With that, Hawthorne shows that the sin is so merciless that it literally destroys him. Throughout the novel, Hawthorne shows Arthurs health declining, as his guilt steadily increases.
Poes The Fall of The House of Usher begins on one “…dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year….” From the very beginning, the reader, as a result of Poe’s imagery, is aware of a sense of death and decay. Even the narrator describes “a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded his spirit” as he approached the House of Usher. The term “House of Usher” refers not only to the crumbling mansion but also to the remaining family members who live within.
The narrator begins his description of the room with images of glowing light and Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellised panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eye. Then this light vanishes and darkness appears when the light struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. Clearly here is a transition present from light to dark.
The narrator reasons that if he could look at things differently or in a brighter light, he might be able to change it, but when he looks into the lake he sees, with even more fear before, a mirror image of the house in all its darkness.
In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne effectively uses contrasts light and dark images to develop the personalities of Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale. Hawthorne uses chiaroscuro to show the depth of Hesters guilt and strength of bearing her sin and Arthurs secret. Pearl is characterized as radiant through Hawthornes vibrant descriptions of her beauty. He uses the sun to depict the purity of Pearl. Hawthorne uses shadows to depict how Arthur is a meager man compared to Hester, also bearing the sin.
Hawthorne portrays Arthur deteriorating from his guilt, while Hester pushes herself to live on and try to overcome it, still always bearing its weight and pain. Poe uses images of light turning into dark to present his gloomy settings and themes. The House of Usher as first being described in light converts to dark images. Chiaroscuro is effectively used by Hawthorne to develop the personalities of his characters and by Poe to clearly present his dark settings and themes.
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