The weather has a lot to do with our feelings if we allow it to have that effect. When you look out your window on a dismal day, a kind of sadness can creep into your heart. By the same token, a bright summer morning may prompt you to get up singing, “Oh, what a wonderful day…Let’s go a-fishing.” Nevertheless, I know from experience that we can turn a rainy day into a day of relaxing productivity: these damp days are perfect for reading and pondering. There is a lot to be said for having an excuse to stay inside. As I thought about how the weather somehow dictates or determines our feelings, I became freshly aware of the phenomenon in literature.
The pathetic fallacy is a literary device in which nature takes on the human tone and ambiance of the situation depicted in the work. Gothic stories, for example, always have a dark, eerie feel to them because of nighttime, storms and vacant houses. Romances, on the other hand, are often full of sunshine, island paradises and beautiful scenes. In other words, writers try to match their setting with the emotions and plot situations depicted. That is, traditionally. All that is apparently changing in our day.
I was reminded of the pathetic fallacy on my walk down a lonely road this morning. Everything, including the sky, seemed gray and colorless. The dirt path was drab, the grass was brown, and the hardwoods were dark and forlorn. Even the green of the pines was subdued, nothing like the miraculous blending of the blue and yellow in a rainbow. As I plodded on, the phrase, “neutral tones,” leaked from my subconscious into my muted lucidity and I remembered a poem by Thomas Hardy entitled “Neutral Tones.” It is about the place, a dark and colorless pond, where the narrator of the poem realizes his relationship with his beloved is over. It is a perfect example of the pathetic fallacy. Nature contains the same emotion the forlorn lover experiences.
Today, there seems to be a kind of anti-pathetic fallacy at work in art forms, even movies. Quentin Tarantino, for example, often sets deeply troubling or violent scenes in bright sunshine. While the irony works to enhance the foreboding tone, such contrast is emotionally disturbing to sensitive audiences. Similarly, movies like director Ridley Scott’s “No Country for Old Men” work the trick of beautiful environments juxtaposed with utter depravity to the same effect.
So, this morning on my walk, I found myself trying to feel encouraged in the midst of a scene that was anything but. I thought of another poem a little further back than Hardy’s, Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” in which he asks, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind.” Well, the weatherman said this morning that we would have a warming trend just after this week’s winter blast, so maybe spring is upon us. That may be a little hard to think about here in the middle of January, but it won’t be long.