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Commentary on Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, 1942

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Joyce Carol Oate’s commentary on Edward Hopper’s painting “Night Hawks”, 1942 is told in the third person narrative. Using a reflective style of writing the reader is presented with the different thoughts of two individuals a man and a woman. Using such literary devices as imagery and symbolism this piece of writing presents a detail account moment in the life of a couple late at night in a brilliantly lit bar. This commentary is set against in a silent background, no one speaks and we are told “it’s the middle of the night” and “hasn’t said a word for the past ten minutes”, presented with four character sits in the bar.

First the reader is presented with a woman “wearing a red dress cut to expose her arms”, followed by a man sits “silent beside her”. The other two people are a man sits at the counter “unmoving except to sit his coffee” and the other one is the bartender. Against this the reader is presented with the transition of thoughts between the man and woman. Oathes starts with the woman “contemplating a cigarette in her right hand… “As information is revealed the reader learns of the woman’s doubts “can she trust him” and the man’s feelings.

She wonders how long this relationship will last “he’ll start to feel guilty in a few days, she knows the signs… ” The man first thought is that “he mad the right move at last”. The flow of thoughts is still maintained as the woman continues by a man thinking that “he made the right move at last”. “He has left his wife, his kids” And still the flow of the thoughts is maintained by the woman thinks that “the light in this place is too bright”, because she worries about how she looks even though she thinks she is “damned good looking”.

However she still worries the main will leave her and go back to his family “he’ll sip away and make phone calls” and how will she react when this hand happens “she will slap his face… ” This enjambment is ended by the contrasting thought of the man “thinking he is the luckiest man in the world… ” The effect of thoughts running into one another presents the reader with the contrast different emotions the man and woman feel The different of thoughts between the characters tells the reader that the relationship will not work, because there is no unity between the two lovers.

The woman is suspicious, because “her companion has finally left his wife but can she trust him? ” and she might face the same situation that he has done to this wife. Even though there is no direct exchange between the character the woman is very angry by just thinking about such horrible outcome “the angrier she gets the stiller she is”. The author is carefully using color in this writing. Start from the woman dresses in red, here this color symbolizes the gender of the character.

“The woman is wearing a short-sleeved red dress… the red is also use to describe the love relationship between the woman and her companion. However judging by the seductive appearance of the woman such as ” pouty lipsticked mouth, she has true redhead’s true pallor like skim milk” The author is trying to use the ordinary love color to make a juxtaposition against their lusty relationship But still this woman is still conscious on her action, because she knows her action is “guilty”. The color white can is also be used to symbolize the innocence of the two minor characters.

The corner man is “unmoving except to sip his coffee” and the countermen is “stopped gaping at her”. Here, the author tells the reader that there is no participation of this inappropriate relationship among these two characters, becaue they are unaware of who these people are and what they have done. The other contrast is made by the author is the image of white against the red. Even though the woman is having an inappropriate relationship with the man, what she really wants is a truthful relationship “can she trust him? The word “creamy” color perhaps uses to give an awareness which reflects the fact she is off-white not pure in term of her relationship due to the fact that her pure love relationship cannot achievable.

The contrast of black and white color against the inside and the outside of the bar is very crucial in representing the totally different thoughts between the man and the woman. The white represents the positive thought of the man, thinking “thank God he made the right move at last”, however on the other hand the black corresponds to the suspicious feeling of the wondering if her boyfriend will “sip away to make telephone calls”.

In addition this huge contrast of color shows the fact that this two colors cannot join together, therefore in this commentary, Oates is trying to convey the reader that this relationship cannot stand forever. The image of darkness and brightness in the bar is also describes at here. It is used to illustrate the relationship between the two individuals. From, a subjective point of view, this unconditional love is symbolized by the darkness of the outside juxtaposed against the brightness of the bar, since the characters cannot hide this relationship forever.

Another complimentary device is use by the author is symbolism. “She’s still contemplating the cigarette burning in her hand” is repeated to symbolize the decay relationship of the two individuals. As we know cigarette cannot last forever. In addition this cigarette can also be viewed as a harmful good, which has a very close relationship with this commentary, because the woman to a certain extent has caused the man to leave his “wife, his kids”.

The old make up “her makeup gets caked”, “her lipstick wears off” symbolizes the decay of this relationship, Oathes try to use the fact that the absent of the “ladies room” shows that her make up cannot be fixed again, therefore the author tells the reader that there is no solution can help to maintain this horrible relationship. The usage of smell is also crucial in this commentary. The horrible relationship of the two individuals is described by using unpleasant smells such a “sweaty”, “rancid” and the smell of “dirty socks”. The smell of “little ash” of “her hair stirs” can be used to explain the angriness of the woman.

By using syntax and punctuation such as commas and questions marks, the writing appears to be very slow and also quiet. The effect this has on the reader is a feeling that we are also standing in the bar, watching what is taking place and try to understand these people’s feelings and the situation they are in In conclusion, Oates is very intelligent in using a number of literary devices to convey a wordless situation once frozen in time, letting the reader into the minds of the people in Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks, 1942.

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