this blog is for an English project on the use and significance of color in the books Heart of Darkness and Jane Eyre hopefully this blog reveals insight as to how color, as used in these two books, plays a special role in the character's lives. as a supplement, the song Rabbit heart (Raise it up) by Florence & the Machine, and the film Alice in Wonderland will be used.

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PS don't mind Martin Freeman doing his thing on the right.

the Use of Color

In both the texts and the songs and film used, the meanings of color have followed the same line. Which makes sense because color associations should follow the same vein so that readers can understand what the use of a certain color entails. 

As mentioned before, the use of colors is a great tool in evoking a certain sensation from the audience. In this project in particular, colors were entwined in the characters way of living, and how they chose to live. Which is interesting because often color can be overlooked unless it is blatantly important. Sure sometimes the color of someone’s shoe might not mean anything, making sure to notice how color is used, and if there’s any pattern is a good idea. Especially because you never know what underlying information it might expose.


Alice in Wonderland (2010)

the Red Queen, the White Queen, and Alice

While we were supposed to use a scene from a film, I wanted to do a comparison of the color of clothing similar to that of Jane Eyre’s choice of clothing. While these three women were in the same scene together, they weren’t shown in the same still. The color of their clothing illustrates the same principle as does the analysis of clothing in Jane Eyre. 

The Red Queen wears red, a color that we’ve stated can stand for vigor, liveliness, anger, and other heightened states of emotions. Which reflects the red queen quite well. She hates her sister for being the favorite and rules wonderland harshly. Wearing red is her external symbol for what she feels and is, resentful, angry and violent ( off with their heads ! ). In a way she also represents the course in life that following a “Red” path can lead you to. 

Next we have the White Queen. She is robbed in white as we described as being a color of clarity, purity and unmarked. It can also mean neutrality as waving a white flag signals surrender. She is seen as the rightful ruler and loved by all for her kindness, she is also a bit passive as she needs Alice to be her champion in defeating the Red Queen. She provides the opposite characteristics that her sister possesses and that is shown first through her white clothing.

Finally we have Alice, throughout most of the film Alice is dressed in blue. While blue is seen as a calm and constant color, it is also a dynamic color that has attributes of wisdom and intelligence. Alice questions life and searches for answers; plus she is ultimately the hero of the story. We always imagine her with that blue dress whether it’s in the book or movie, and whatever qualities she possess are also attributed when we think of the dress, which is blue. 


FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE — Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)

And in the spring I shed my skin
And it blows away with the changing wind
The waters turn from blue to red
As towards the sky I offer it

This is a gift, it comes with a price
Who is the lamb and who is the knife?
Midas is king and he holds me so tight
And turns me to gold in the sunlight

A song that I thought would be fitting with the theme of color and the theme of the class of literature and life. I chose this specific excerpt because the use of color holds a variety of meanings that fit with the overarching theme of the song. 

The waters turning “from blue to red” is simple enough to understand as water is typically imagined as being blue, a color that is considered to signify calmness and stability. When the water turns red, the red tint can be attributed to that of blood; red, as I used earlier means heightened emotions (passion, anger, etc) and in these lyrics the meaning is the same. When the water runs red something has happened to cause blood to spill which typically happens when someone or something’s mood is elevated to a point in which it can no longer be restrained. 

The next use of color is similar to the use of ivory in Heart of Darkness, “turns me to gold in the sunlight” , gold is both a color and object of value. To be turned to gold can mean being attributed some great value. Since gold is in the family of the color yellow, it’s important to look at the meaning usually attributed to the color yellow. The phrase a “sunny disposition” is useful in describing the color yellow, it typically means something positive, happy, and optimistic. However, by looking at the context of turning to gold, the same attributes used in the smybolism of ivory can be used.

 The story of Midas is what gives meaning to the use of gold and its relation to living life. Midas’ touch turned everything to gold, a power he desired out of greed, and in the end turned out to be more of a curse than a gift. The theme of the song is just that, what appears to be a great gift/accomplishment that you strived for ends up having a price and you have to question if it’s worth it in the end. 

There’s a flurry of emotion in the song as it begs us to question the life we live now, are the sacrifices worth it? Is there a better way with less of a cost?  From blue to red and being changed to gold, the use of color is a great tool in giving us visual and emotional appeal. 


White Patch (on the Map)

"True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery—a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness…" (Heart of Darkness)

This blog excerpt is an add-on to the post about ivory and the color white below. 

In the beginning of the book Marlow states that it had been his dream to explore the white patches on the map. Going with the theme of white and it’s meaning of clarity this excerpt also connects to the entry about the white mattress and chair in Jane Eyre, it stands for the potential, the what could be possible. Being young is to be idealistic and that white patch was unfilled and he wanted to take it upon himself to fill it. 

When he turns to describe it as becoming a place of darkness we get the color most associated with darkness is black, and since he is narrating this after it has happened it shows that he realizes the ‘darkness’ that exists as man advances further and (perhaps unknowingly or just ignores) the sacrifices and ugliness that it entails. 



"The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck be as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion." (Heart of Darkness)

In Heart of Darkness I found the importance of ivory interesting. Ivory can be used as both a word for an object and describing a color similar to white. In the book ivory is an object held with great value, it’s the reason why men dare to venture into the Congo, to get ivory to make money.  From the quote Marlow narrates exactly how precious it is, how they worship it and will go to great lengths to get it.

Going with the line of thought, those great lengths can also involve losing oneself both physically and mentally. As we see that many die from sickness and the Swede who shot himself. White typically stands for clarity and purity and in this case the lust for ivory can be interpreted as a desire that drives men to lose that. Especially in the case of Kurtz, as he’s shown as being the man who brings the most ivory in from the Congo, and when Marlow narrates the meeting with him we can see that Kurtz is clearly not all that well.

The more ivory that is sent down and taken to the west the more “clarity” seems to be lost.  The deeper the men delve for the ivory the more they lose and revert back to a more primal mentality. So in this passage, the ivory is both an object and color. The color has similar meaning to that in Jane Eyre, it is a symbol of purity and clarity, unmarred, but ultimately lost in Heart of Darkness. They come to possess it,  but it instead of being purity and clarity retained, it is lost. While something white like ivory is pure and beautiful, in Heart of Darkness the path taken to acquire it because of its value is horrible. The land, animal and natives are exploited without regard and the men who don’t it don’t leave unscathed. So while the ivory (white) retains its meaning and remains pure, it leaves “horror” in its wake.

In relation to life it brings to question the ‘means to an end’, is living to obtain something of so much value because it will have great economic gain worth it in the end? As seen in Heart of Darkness the end results damage both sides whether or not they realize it. Going with the theme of the class, literature and life, Heart of Darkness shows us an aspect of life during the age of Imperialism that was  about more than just exploiting and civilizing the “uncivilized” , but instead it digs deeper and gives us a reflection of the mental and emotional cost that such acts cause. 


Sensational Color

Interesting website that deals with color and gives interesting insight to what colors mean and their use. Click above to be redirected.



"I sometimes regretted that I was not handsomer: I sometimes wished to have rosy cheeks, a straight nose, and small cherry mouth: I desired to be tall, stately, and finely developed in figure; I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked. And why had I these aspirations and these regrets? It would be difficult to say:  I could not distinctly say it to myself; yet I had a reason, and a logical, natural reason too. However, when I had brushed my hair very smooth, and put on my black frock - which Quaker-like as it was, at least had the merit of fitting to a nicety — and  adjusted my clean white tucker…." (Jane Eyre, Pg. 117)

The color and type of clothing that Jane wears in the book can tell us a bit of what she thinks of herself and her surrounding society. In the excerpt above is a description of her appearance and clothing. Since i’m looking mainly at the use of color that’s what i’ll focus on.

She describes herself as being pale, which is a lack of color, and with a sometimes expressed desire of having “rosy cheeks” and a small “cherry mouth”. From this we can figure that she is, at times, self conscious that she does not possess the qualities that are thought to be attractive in society at the time. This gives us an impression of what she thinks of herself and why. The color rosy and cherry which closely resemble the color red which can signify vigor and life. Which Jane does posses but not in the way society expects her to.

Also, her choice of somber colors gives us an impression of her status in society. To dress in gray or black gives a sense of neutrality and inconspicuousness. In society she holds the position of a governess, who is not a servant yet not part of the family, which puts her in a limbo of sorts. At the same time her clothing can represent her own feelings towards herself and how she feels a woman in her position should appear. She does not wear bright colors or fancy gowns and even when she draws herself its without color. Which seems to contradict her personality as a woman who struggles to be independent and wanting to live passionately. So in a way her clothing and personality create a dynamic between her emotions and what she believes about her life and society she lives in. 


the Red Room

"The red-room was a spare chamber,very seldom slept in: I might say never, indeed, unless when a chance influx of visitors at Gateshead Hall rendered it necessary to turn to account all the accommodation it contained: yet it was one of the largest and stateliest chambers in the mansion. A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep red damask, stood out like a tabernacle in the centre, the two large windows with their blinds always drawn down, were half shrouded in festoons and falls of similar drapery; the carpet was red; the table at the foot of the bed was covered with  a crimson cloth; the walls were a soft fawn color, with a blush of pink in it; the wardrobe, the toilet-table, the chairs, were of darkly polished old mahogany. Out of these deep surrounding shades rose high, and glared white, the piled up mattresses and pillows of the bed, spread with a snowy Marseilles counterpane. Scarcely less prominent was an ample cushioned easy chair near the head of the bed, also white, with a footstool before it, and looking, as I thought, like a pale throne." (Jane Eyre, Pg. 17)

For Jane Eyre, the red room was perhaps one of the most important experiences of her life.  For one, her life would change from there, starting with being sent away to Lowood, it is a symbol that comes back later in the book and it highlights her position in life. Since my focus is on the use of color in Jane Eyre and Heart of Darkness, I will look at the significance of the red room for Jane and how it connects to the rest of the book.

The room is called the ‘Red Room’ for a reason, in the excerpt above we see that that the entire room is covered in red, but it’s not the only color, white is also present. But first the red, the color red has a general meaning that can be widely accepted— being a color that represents a heightened sense of emotion.

Before Jane is locked in the Red Room, she gets into trouble after her cousin John has hit her. It can be seen as an action provoked by how she’s been treated by her aunt and cousins. She has always been treated as an outsider and denied love.  The red room represents her emotional state at the time, as she’s carried to the red room she “resisted all the way” and she questions why she suffered because she was not like other children, not “been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child”.

The red room serves as a physical space that shows us what’s going through her mind as she questions her treatment and life so far in Gateshead. Being a color associated with heightened emotions, red can be attributed to anger, such as the expression “seeing red”. When Jane is in the red room and prior to being sent there, she’s angry and upset with her situation. In the red room is where she contemplates all this and where she sees her courage failing as she wonders if she truly is a wicked child. All the pent up thoughts and emotions are displayed and we can see that she is a passionate child. She does not fit the mold and it frustrates her as she tries to figure out her place, and we see in the future that she struggles with living passionately and being independent as well.  

Then there is the white that is within the Red Room. The white things in the red room are the bed and the easy chair in the room. The color white typically symbolizes purity, basically some clean and unmarred.  It is also a lack of color, a canvas that allows for it to be filled in. During her time in the red room Jane also thinks about her uncle Mr. Reed, he died in that room (probably on that bed) and asked his wife to take care of Jane. She says “that if Mr. Reed had been alive he would have treated me kindly” and with that she looks towards the white bed. The white can stand for what could have been, it is unmarked and a symbol of what could have been a more pleasant childhood.

* Quotes taken from Jane Eyre chapter two.



We don’t view the world in grey scale. Though a mood can easily paint the world shades of grey. Color is a silent form of expression that can speak volumes when noticed; then it becomes more than just a color, it becomes a symbol. There’s so many hues to pick from, each with varied meaning depending on the context used in. In literature color is also an important tool of expression, as it can reveal a lot than just “Bob’s shirt was blue”. Sure in many instances a blue shirt is just that, a blue shirt. However, it’s important to take a good look and see what kind of context the blue shirt is in, that’s what can define its meaning. 

What I basically want to do is take a look at the use of color in specific passages from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I want to dig for how colors serve as a symbol of expression and an important factor in the character’s life/way of living. In addition to those texts music and screencaps from a film will used to supplement my look at the use of color. 

3 years ago   # life    # color    # literature    # english project