Green is a colour that has long been used to symbolise a variety of ideas in literature. From nature to envy, from growth to wealth, green has a wide range of meanings and interpretations depending on the context in which it is used.
In this article, we will explore the various symbolic meanings of green in literature, and examine how authors have utilised this colour to convey different messages and themes in their works.
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Different Meanings of Green in Literature
Green is a versatile colour that can be used to symbolise different ideas and emotions in literature (1), depending on the context and the author’s intentions. Let’s take a look at those meanings and ideas in detail.
Nature and Environment
In literature, green is often associated with nature and the environment. It is the colour of grass, leaves, and trees, and as such is frequently used to describe natural settings.
It is also a symbol of the natural beauty that surrounds them, the trees and the water of the bay. Similarly, in J.R.R. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the forests of Lothlorien are described as being “clad in a mantle of spring-green, moved by the breath of spring and stirred by the voice of falling water.”
Here, the colour green is used to evoke the image of a lush, vibrant natural setting, and to reinforce the idea of the importance of nature to the story. (2)
Another common association with green in literature is envy or jealousy. This is perhaps most famously exemplified in William Shakespeare’s play Othello, in which the character Iago describes jealousy as “the green-eyed monster which doth mock/The meat it feeds on.”
Here, the colour green is used to represent the destructive nature of jealousy and envy, which consumes the person who experiences it.
In a similar vein, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” the character Beatrice is associated with the colour green, which represents her poisonous nature and the envy and desire that she arouses in others.
These examples demonstrate how green can be used to convey negative emotions and ideas in literature. (2)
Green can also be used to represent growth, renewal, and vitality. In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s novel The Secret Garden, the colour green is used to represent the rejuvenating power of nature.
The garden that the protagonist, Mary, discovers is described as being “all green and silver…it seemed as if the earth itself had sent up the lovesome spray.” Here, the colour green is used to evoke a sense of life and vitality, as well as the transformative power of nature.
Similarly, in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land,” the phrase “April is the cruellest month” is followed by a description of the “stirring” of the earth, and the arrival of “the lilacs out of the dead land.” Here, green represents the promise of new life and the possibility of growth, even in the face of despair. (3)
In literature, green is often used to symbolise wealth, money, and material possessions. This association can be traced back to the color of American banknotes, which are often referred to as “greenbacks” due to their distinctive green hue.
This link between green and money has been utilised by authors to convey themes related to wealth, power, and greed in their works. For example, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the character of Jay Gatsby is associated with the colour green, which represents his wealth and opulence.
The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock is also a symbol of the wealth and prosperity that Gatsby is striving to attain. (3)
Illness and Death
Green can also be used to symbolise illness and death. This may be because the colour is associated with decay and decomposition. In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” for example, the colour green is used to represent the final stage of the disease that is sweeping through the kingdom.
The narrator describes how “there were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution.” The use of the colour green here reinforces the idea of decay and the inevitability of death. (4)
Youth and Inexperience
In literature, the colour green is sometimes used to represent youth and inexperience. This is because green is associated with growth and development, which are characteristics often associated with youth.
For example, in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the main character Holden Caulfield uses the colour green to describe a young child playing in a field of rye.
This image represents the innocence and vulnerability of youth, as well as the idea that young people are still growing and learning. So, the colour green in literature can be a symbol of youth and inexperience. (4)
In conclusion, the colour green has many different meanings and symbolisms in literature. From nature and renewal, to envy and jealousy, to wealth and materialism, to youth and inexperience, and even illness and death, green is a colour that can convey a wide range of emotions and themes depending on the context and the author’s intentions.
As readers, it’s important to pay attention to the use of colour in literature and to consider the different meanings and symbolisms that may be associated with them. By doing so, we can gain a deeper understanding of the text and the author’s message. Whether green is used to represent the beauty of nature or the corrupting influence of money, its symbolism is a powerful tool that can help bring literary works to life.