Thesis

"One foot in the dark, the other in the light:" tracing the literary path of darkness from scary to sublime

The iconic symbols of light and darkness are well-recognized throughout literature. Readers are conditioned to accept that light traditionally connotes holiness, hope, and happiness, while darkness acts as a harbinger of doom, death, and depression. As the works of John Milton show, the Bible plays a large role in casting light as ‘good’ and darkness as ‘evil.’ However, as the literary canon expands beyond the Eurocentric viewpoint of the privileged white male, perceptions of darkness and light shift as well. With the inclusion of female authors and authors of color, darkness comes to be aligned with peace and sublimity as opposed to fear. To investigate this change, I examine selected works of John Milton, Edith Wharton, Jean Rhys, Edwidge Danticat, and Jamaica Kincaid, and engage with a myriad of cultures and critics. I posit that the relatively recent shift in the way darkness and light are perceived comes from the widening of the historically Eurocentric literary canon. The holiness of light is admired throughout Milton’s work, accepted in Wharton’s, and merely acknowledged by Rhys. Through their own experiences of multiculturalism, Rhys, Danticat, and Kincaid are able to envision another aspect of darkness, one untouched by Western religious beliefs. As the literary canon expands to include female authors and authors of color, we gain an appreciation of different cultures. Through the work of authors such as Danticat and Kincaid, darkness is being elevated to its true role as sublime rather than scary, an equal counterpart to the beauty of light.

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