Imagery to convey meanings

Writers often make use of imagery to convey meanings. Colour is one of the main types of imagery used by Anton Chekhov and Yasunari Kawabata in their creations The Seagull and Snow Country respectively. The world around us is full of colours. Colour is something which affects or reflects one's mood. Colour adds depth to the nature of the object and makes the reader associate the emotions with it. There is an intrinsic use of colour in both the books to suggest not only emotions but also ideas. Thus, I will be exploring "The use of black, white and red in the works The Seagull by Anton Chekhov and Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata."

Anton Chekhov opens his play The Seagull with the line being said by Medvedenko asking Masha a question: "Why do you wear black all the time?"[1] This portrays that there is a sense of unhappiness prevailing in the beginning of the play itself. Chekhov uses this colour to show the sadness of the character Masha and her attitude towards life depicting it as depressing and monotonous which is obvious by her paradoxical reply "I'm mourning for my life, I'm unhappy"[2]. Here Masha is characterized to be gloomy. We later know that because she loved Treplev but it is unrequited love. He uses a paradox to depict her answer to the question asked in the previous line. This is enhanced when Trigorin, the famous writer notes down points about Masha in his book: "Always wears black."[3]He brings into play the culture of this Russian community where black clothing is unusual and is used for mourning. Chekhov again makes use of black in the conversation between Trigorin and Nina. Chekhov cleverly illustrates Nina's condition of her family and friends disliking her to the readers by the axiom "I'd live in the garret on black bread."[4]Through this axiom, the playwright depicts a society where actresses were considered to be 'wildly Bohemiour'[5]. To highlight the demoralizing situation, Nina's dialogue includes her readiness to live in a loft if she could be a successful actress, even if her family and friends disapproved of her profession. Chekhov intellectually describes the circumstances of the disheartened Nina caught between her passion for acting and her family's contempt of it.

In both these examples, 'black' has been used to highlight the soul-destroying situations of Nina and Masha in The Seagull .They both accept the disappointment in life and continue to survive despite the miseries in their life. Nina even pursues her dream at the end of the play.

Likewise Yasunari Kawabata in his book Snow Country also uses black as a symbol to depict the unhappiness and loneliness of Komako when it was time for Shimamura was to leave for Tokyo. This is a natural feeling felt by all humans when a close one departs. Instead of directly depicting the loneliness felt by Komako, Kawabata makes use of personification and the thing that he incarnates here is her black hair. This can be seen when he says "Komako's too black hair was a little touching, a little sad, in the loneliness of the shadowed mountain pocket."[6]This depicts the sense of loneliness Komako is already feeling even before Shimamura had already left in spite of being surrounded with snowy mountains and cool breeze. It in a way shows her love for Shimamura and the feeling of emptiness in her heart for him by the thought of his departure although they were always too far despite the fact of being close together. "A black shawl was thrown over the full flesh of her shoulders, and her cheeks were wonderful fiery red".[7] He makes use of black to describe the attire of the girl who sat besides Shimamura in the train when he was leaving for Tokyo. The above quote gives us the idea of how cold it was at the Snow Country. The effect used by Kawabata to describe the weather makes even the readers shiver. Here black is not been used to represent gloominess but instead to add intensity to the weather. It also shows how Shimamura is associating this stranger to the geishas Yoko and Komako. In contrast to black, the two writers Anton Chekhov and Yasunari Kawabata make use of white colour. Yasunari comments on the setting of his work in the second line "The earth lay white under the night sky".[8] He uses the colour white to brighten the scene which is dark as it occurs at night. There is a contrast drawn between the night skies and white which is completely different and opposite to each other. He contrasts the two aspects to portray the beauty of the nature by the use of paradox. In another example, "She started to smile through the thick, white geisha's powder"[9], Kawabata describes the way Komako smiled cutting wrinkles through her geisha powder and in a polite way comments on the vulnerability of Komako. White symbolises purity. Again in the description, "The thought of the white linen, spread out on the deep snow, the cloth and the snow glowing scarlet in the rising sun, was enough to make him feel that the dirt of the summer had been washed away, even that he himself had been bleached clean."[10] depicts the culture of Tokyo where people wore Chijimi linen. Yasunari uses the colour white to describe the beauty and purity of the linen. The limpidness of the cloth can be felt when the writer expresses Shimamura feeling fresh having thought about the white linen. This parallels his decision to cleanse himself by returning to Tokyo, and his wife. The readers notice his exploitation of the geisha, Komako.

Chekhov makes use of the colour white not in the beginning of his play but in the beginning of his character's Treplev's play. He uses white to depict the purity of the character Nina in this play within the play. "The curtain rises, opening on to the lake. The moon has risen above the horizon and is reflected in the water. NINA ZARECHY, dressed in white, is sitting on a boulder."[11] Treplev uses this to depict the World Spirit. At the same time, to create a scene of simplicity and purity and enhance the personality of his character, Nina, Chekhov makes use of white. This image is strengthened when Trigorin tells Nina in Act 3 that he would remember her in the dress she wore when they were walking near the seagull: "We were talking and there was a white bird lying on the bench."[12] This links up with title of the play. The audience sees that the Seagull is a symbol of Nina at this point.

Apart from the two contrasting colour the two above writers also make use of red to create a specific mood or emotion. Firstly both use red colour to comment on the beauty of the setting be it natural or artificial.

Yasunari uses red to depict the beauty of the face of humans. "Yoko closed the window and pressed her hands to her red cheeks."[13] In the above phrase, Yasunari uses red to depict the Komako's intense emotion. The colour red signifies the intensity of winter as well as Komako's with a few pages of this, Komako describes: "The mountain sky still carried traces of evening red."[14] Here red is used to describe the beauty of the nature and in this quote it stresses on the time of sunset. He tries to create a beautiful visual imagery to attract the readers.

Chekhov uses red for visual imagery in Treplev's play to show Treplev's innovation: "Two red spots appear over the lake."[15] He uses the red colour to attract the attention of his readers to show the contrast between the World Spirit which Nina represents and the Devil, the principle of "Matevial Force"[16] symbolised by the red spots.

Chekhov uses red not naturally occurring but artificially probably as comment on symbolism, Irina scoffs at Treplev "Was that really necessary?"[17] while Dorn says to himself "When the red eyes appeared, my hands shook with excitement. It was all so fresh and innocent."[18] Kawabata uses red occurring naturally in nature as well as in human features. The geisha and the hot springs merge in our minds to create a sense of pathos at the sadness of situations.

We can see that our inpretation of colours as symbol or imagery is an intellectual exercise in Chekhov's The Seagull and an emotional experience in Kawabata's Snow Country.


  1. Chekhov, Anton. The Seagull. New York, OUP, 1965. p 67.
  2. ibid. p 67.
  3. ibid. p 88.
  4. ibid. p 91.
  5. ibid. p 71.
  6. Kawabata, Yasunari. The Snow Country. US, Vintage International, 1956. p 80.
  7. ibid. p87.
  8. ibid. p 3.
  9. ibid. p15.
  10. ibid. p152.
  11. Chekhov, Anton. The Seagull. New York, OUP, 1965. p 74.
  12. ibid. p 93.
  13. Kawabata, Yasunari. The Snow Country. US, Vintage International, 1956. p 5.
  14. ibid. p 9.
  15. Chekhov, Anton. The Seagull. New York, OUP, 1965. p 75.
  16. ibid. p 75.
  17. ibid. p 75.
  18. ibid. p 79.

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