Red is a powerful color; it stands for danger, passion, caution, love, hate, fire, and death.
There is no other color represents such a vast quantity of human emotion and experience. Almost from the day we are born we begin to understand the overwhelming influence of the color, and we learn that red means stop while green means go. We encounter stop signs, red flags, red tape; we learn to avoid blood and fire. On Valentines Day, we give gifts of crimson roses, red hearts, chocolates encased in a bright red box. In horror or detective stories, the killer signs the ransom note or writes on the wall in oozing red blood, while in romances, lovers encounter each other in rooms draped in scarlet. The array of contrasting ideas and feelings aroused from a single color is incredible.
In literature, red symbolizes anything from sexuality and impurity to suffering and pain. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the main character is branded with a deep red “A,” a symbol of her extramarital indiscretions. The color and the patch itself haunt her and her child, and is a main motif throughout the book. In Gone With the Wind, it is no coincidence that the main character, a passionate, fiery Southern belle, is named Scarlett, for these are all characteristics expressed by the color. In movies and books, redheads are portrayed with a polarity of characteristics, either being immoral, experienced, and dangerous or, conversely, as being innocent and naïve. These portrayals reflect the range of meanings of the color in life, and are as common as the color is in the real world.
Even outside of the human realm, red plays a dramatic role. In nature, red is a typical warning; poisonous flowers and snakes tend to display the color brazenly, and even non-toxic organisms have learned to mimic the color in order to survive. In astronomy and physics, red is an indication of a certain temperature, and appears in any number of tests and experiments. To discover the pH of a particular substance, scientists use litmus paper, which turns red or blue depending on the acidity of the material being tested.
Red is a color that stands for so many things, and yet is acknowledged universally in so many instances. Teachers use red pens to call attention to errors. Bullfighters use scarlet capes to grab the focus of their animal challengers. Women wear red lipstick and nail polish to capture the eye of men. The color is used as an attention-grabber in nature, literature, and life, but also symbolizes so many feelings and events. Some people remember their first car, a beat-up, bright crimson old Chevy. I close my eyes and see my thick, soft carpet and recall days of simplicity and innocence, crayons and markers, and childhood.