The fancies and reflections of a loquacious ninja

White is a color

I recently read one of G.K.Chesterton’s essays, A Piece of Chalk, for school, and I’ve never read or enjoyed anything quite like it before. If you haven’t read it, you should. No excuses allowed.

I’ll try not to spoil anything, but here’s a quick summary of Chesterton’s little story:

He goes one summer morning with chalk in his pocket, and asks his landlady for brown paper to draw on. He goes out onto the hills to draw. He discovers he forgot his white chalk, but realizes he has more than enough of it all around him.

That’s a quick plot summary for you (if you’re wondering what I mean by the end, I hope it forces you to read it yourself). But much more happens in the essay (nay, drama) than mere plot points, for while Chesterton’s body only takes a brief walk before settling down on the hilly landscape to draw, his mind runs to the moon and back over the course of this short journey.

He goes off on many tangents; in fact, I think you could call the entire essay a series of tangents strung together (if most essays were circles, this would be a twelve-pointed star; tangents all the way around): He tries to explain the particular quality of brownness in the paper he requests when the poor, confused (though certainly well-intentioned) landlady insists on supplying him with the wrong amount or wrong type of paper. He ponders the poetical nature of the things he carries in his pocket; he once toyed with the idea of devoting an entire book of poems to their poeticalness, but regrettably put that aside, as it would have been far too long (a problem I’m well familiar with). He goes to the hills to draw, not Nature, but all the fancies his glorious imagination can contain. He sketches the soul of a cow, “all purple and silver.” And he despairs at the discovery of his missing white chalk, for nothing could be more crucial.

There were many splendid blasts and bursts of color throughout the story, but white was the essential, the pivotal element. This was his claim: white is a color, “as fierce as red, as definite as black.” And this same assertion is the basis of all true Christian morality, for white is a color just as virtue is a living being in itself, not just the absence of something else.

It’s interesting that we think of white as Nothing. Just blank space. If you get a page that is all red, or green, or even black, it is colored paper. But a white page is just “blank.”

Ironically, the exact opposite is true. White is not the absence of color; that’s what black is. As strange and awful as it is, white is in reality the sum of all colors. When you mix the three primary colors equally, you don’t get gray, or brown, or black.

If you look where the colors are all balanced out, right in the middle, you get white.

Anyways, back to Chesterton. Hopefully, I haven’t given too much away. But seriously, read it if you haven’t already. You can find it right here.



2 responses to “White is a color

  1. Emma Hackett May 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    TIM!!!!!!!! I’m loving your blog, just to let you know 🙂 Very insightful – nice, nice job!!!!!
    btw – I love Chesterton, but I’ve never read this particular work. Hmmmm… I’ll have to find it. And have you ever taken a look at the Father Brown mystery series by Chesterton? They’re very entertaining 🙂

    • Timothy June 2, 2011 at 2:16 am

      I’ve heard about the Father Brown series, haven’t read any of them. (that’s another thing on my reading list…) Thanks for the recommendation!
      (and the link to the essay should be at the end of this post… let me know if it doesn’t work)

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