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Evaluation of a Piece of Chalk

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Evaluation of A Piece of Chalk

The popular and prolific author of this essay, Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton, charms his readers with whimsy and fun as well as with the paradoxical and thought-provoking substance of his writing. He lived in the years 1874 to 1936, studied art at the Slade School and literature at University College in London. Three main types of writing occupied him: Social criticism, literary criticism, and theology and religious argument. He wrote of Christianity in such books as Orthodoxy, St. Francis of Assisi, The Everlasting Man, The Catholic Church and Conversion, and St. Thomas Aquinas. He converted to Catholicism in 1922 (Britannica, 1992). Chesterton portrays religion as man's highest endeavor, never stuffy or restrictive. His style is often uproariously comic, expressing his exuberant nature and quick wit. More than one biographer has dubbed him "the prince of paradox." His fictional Father Brown series is as much a social commentary as it is an entertaining mystery about the life of the likable priest-sleuth (Britannica, 1992). He is like a favorite uncle (Lopate, 1994) whose stories keep one delightfully entertained for hours. After reading a little about his life and this short essay, I am quite interested in reading more of his work.

Chesterton's audience for A Piece of Chalk is not specific. He seems to be writing for anyone who may happen upon his story. Perhaps it was written for a periodical of the day. Through this essay he takes the reader on an interesting jaunt through his thoughts on the occasion of a walk to the countryside. His destination is a hillside where he draws on brown paper with colored chalk while expounding on the deeper symbolic meaning connected with the colors he uses.

Chesterton's vivid descriptions incorporating color are strewn throughout the essay. Morning is described in the first sentence as "blue and silver." When setting out on his walk he picks up six "brightly coloured chalks" and asks the owner of the house whether she has any brown paper. In explaining his purpose for the paper he describes its "brownness" in detail. As he draws he describes his colors: "Saints in robes of angry crimson," "seas of strange green" and "blue robes of the Virgin (Lopate, pp. 249-250)." He has especially much to say about the color white as he laments that it is the only color he has forgotten to bring. On his brown paper white is a color and one that teaches moral lessons. White is not the absence of color just as virtue is not merely the absence of vice. Rather, both are vibrant with life and purpose all their own. Virtue is a vitality that expresses goodness. Similarly, mercy is more than the absence of cruelty; it is a "positive thing like the sun," and chastity is much more than abstaining from sexual immorality. Rather,



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