The Application of Chiaroscuro in The Scarlet Letter and "The Fall of the House of Usher"

Essay by florin15High School, 11th gradeA-, March 2007

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“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 Hawthorne’s 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 Poe’s “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 mother’s…medium 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 Hester’s sin was so powerful, that it had absorbed into Pearl even before she was born. Another quote that shows the depth of Hester’s sin is: “The light lingered about the lonely child,