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Comparing the Use of Light and Dark by Melville, Poe, and Hawthorne

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 sca…

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…aking of humanity): “this black conceit pervades him, through and through. You may be witched by his sunlight,–transported by the bright gildings in the skies he builds over you;–but there is the blackness of darkness beyond; and even his bright gildings but fringe, and play upon the edges of thunder-clouds.”

Works Cited:

Adler, Joyce. “Benito Cereno: Slavery and Violence in the Americas.” Critical Essays in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno; Burkholder, Robert E.,

ed. Macmillan Publishing Co., NY, 1992.

Gargano, James. “Art and Irony in William Wilson.” New Approaches to Poe; Benton, Richard P., ed., 1970.

Levin, Harry. The Power of Blackness. New York, 1967.

Melville, Herman. “Hawthorne and His Mosses.” From The Literary World, August 17 and 24, 1850.

Accessed at: on May 1, 2000.

Comparing Evil in Emerson, Hawthorne, and Melville

Lionel Trilling once said, “A proper sense of evil is surely an attribute of a great writer.” (98-99) Although he made the remark in a different context, one would naturally associate Hawthorne and Melville with the comment, while Emerson’s might be one of the last names to mind. For the modern reader, who is often in the habit of assuming that the most profound and incisive apprehension of reality is a sense of tragedy, Emerson seems to have lost his grip. He has often been charged with a lack of vision of evil and tragedy. Yeats, for example, felt that Whitman and Emerson “have begun to seem superficial, precisely because they lack the Vision of Evil” (qtd. in Matthiessen 181).

There is no doubt that Emerson was a yea-sayer. He did celebrate the daylight and hope in preference to blackness and despair. At the same time, however, he was not unaware of the existence of evil. He personally went through the agony of unusual poverty and a series of deaths of his beloved ones, and his own health was constantly threatened. He knew life was hard and full of tribulations. But Emerson discovered the key to the perplexing reality in absolute faith in human nature and divinity: A human being is capable of banishing whatever evil with the guidance of divinity that sometimes seems to accomplish the just cause at any cost, even by an evil agent. Throughout ‘Self-Reliance’ echoes his strong conviction in human nature and God:

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events…And we are new men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and inv…

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…. “Self-Reliance.” The American Tradition in Literature. Ed. Sculley Bradley et al. Vol. 1, 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1983. 1036-1048.

—–. “The American Scholar.” The American Tradition in Literature. 1080-1092.

—–. “Experience.” The American Tradition in Literature. 1126-1135.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” The American Tradition in Literature. 672-683.

Hoeltje, Hubert H. “Hawthorne, Melville, and Blackness,” American Literature, 37 (1965): 279-285.

Matthiessen, F.O. American Renaissance. New York: Oxford

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