Representation of colour in Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Topics: Shakespeare's sonnets, Color, Red Sea Pages: 5 (1763 words) Published: December 2, 2013
Exploring the use of colour (including light and dark) in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Often in literature, if not, always, symbols and symbolism are used to convey characteristics and atmosphere, powerfully evoking images within the readers subconscious, adding bones to the body of the text. Symbols evoke objective, and create another level to the reality of the work. Colour has always been a popular symbolic technique, easily creating an atmosphere, and generally giving the reader some form of imagery. Broadly speaking, there are two ways to use colour imagery. One provides a depth to character, or provides atmosphere to the scenery (for example, “Blue hills”, or “white dress” in Tess of the D’Urbervilles”). Another use might provide the reader with the meaning of the prose surrounding the colour (“gold” in Sonnet 18). Hardy integrates colour into Tess flawlessly, never missing an opportunity to highlight her purity, or foreshadow her fateful demise; whereas Shakespeare uses colour to irradiate the features of a character or object in the sonnets.

The very first instance of colour in Tess of the D’Urbervilles is introduced in the closing line of the first paragraph of chapter 1: “gray mare”. The colour gray connotes several things. Being a mixture between black and white, or light and darkness, it can provide a sense of the unknown. It is a neutral colour. Using this as the first colour in the novel makes perfect literal sense. We have no idea of the story line, the setting, the characters, and we are literally in the unknown. Another connotation of gray is doom. At the very end of the first chapter, the imagery in the readers head has this implication of a dull gray, an impending darkness that is conveyed by the movement of white to black, the process that concocts gray. Furthermore, the description is that of the mare of the parson, the figure who sets the whole plot into motion. He is the direct influence of ‘Sir John’s’ search for the D’Urberville family, and a figure of the church, Hardy’s first criticism in the novel. By describing his mare as gray, we have the doom being personified into a man who rides a gray horse, literally bringing impending doom to Tess. The colour gray will again appear in Chapter 8. “Before her, a gray country of which she knew nothing” seems to directly allude to the mystery of the colour. By making Tess walk toward the country; Hardy has her literally approaching her own doom. Shakespeare utilises the connotation of gray as a becoming or transiting colour in Sonnet 132, in which the line occurs “Better becomes the gray cheeks of the east”. Here, the colour gray is indicative of the coldness of the coming dawn, and the disappearing of the darkness of night, and all its perils being taken with it, quite the opposite of Hardy’s use. The colour might also be an allusion to the greyness of the woman’s face with the brightness of dawn, in accompaniment with her “black” eyes.

A very interesting use of colour appears in chapter 2 of Tess of the D’Urbervilles; “colourless”. Used to describe the atmosphere, it could be interpreted as connoting something being untainted. By making the atmosphere untainted, it provides a form of very subtle foreshadowing. As a reader, knowing something is colourless means that we have to at some point see this “atmosphere” gain colour. The moors are still and peaceful. Hardy is telling us that nothing happens around them. However, this contrasts with the “dark and miry ways” of the paths, the underlying weave of the “colourless” countryside. This provides pathetic fallacy for fate. Whilst life for Tess is untainted at the moment, there are dark ways underpinning this. Her journey will take these miry paths, and the reader knows it. Alternatively, Shakespeare uses the word “black” to show the emptiness in his mistresses eyes, in Sonnet 127. However, Shakespeare stresses that not all beauty has to be colourful to be considered...
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