Understanding White


A while ago I wrote a post on called ‘Understanding Black’ where we looked into the use of the colour black and its associated and perceived meanings in fiction writing.

This post is all about Black’s opposite, the colour White.

White is a far more difficult subject; its perception, while seemingly universal, is far more diverse and presents more of a challenge when explaining the variances due to individual social discernments and sensitivity.

I shall however, in my customary Rambling manner, endeavor to bring some understanding of how understanding White, in all its forms can be molded and used as a wonderful tool in this, the ancient art of wordsmithing.


To start, lets agree that White is an inherently positive colour. Throughout the western world white is the traditional colour worn by brides; it is associated with purity, virginity, innocence, light, goodness, heaven, safety, brilliance, illumination, understanding, cleanliness, faith, beginnings, sterility, spirituality, possibility, humility, sincerity, protection, softness and perfection.

This is perfect for portraying the innocent child, both girl and boy, as well as the blushing bride! This form of white can be used in regards to Fairies and other mystical folk of good nature. A force to battle evil?

The colour white can represent a successful beginning. White gemstones are believed to help create new beginnings, remove prejudice and pre-conceived notions, to see the innocence in others and to clear emotional clutter and silence the inner critic. This notion is also reflected in heraldry where white is used to depict faith and purity.

Novice nuns, ballerina students, preachers and fair minded medical staff (nurses?) could be included within this whiteness as could a burgeoning friendship.

Someone who lives in an achitectaral or minimalistic white building may, possibly? portray all these qualities…at least on the surface!

It is said white affects the mind and body by aiding in mental clarity, promoting feelings of fresh beginnings and renewal, assisting in cleansing, clearing obstacles and clutter and encouraging the purification of thoughts and actions. This train is continued when looking at a large white expanse, such as garden or field covered in snow, again representative of white coolness and simplicity.  

As the opposite of black, white is frequently use in movies and television typically illustrate the good guy. Do you recall the old cowboy films where the ‘baddy’ always wore a black Stetson?

Maybe a modern, contemporary take using this facet of white, would be have some liquor or a pill (white coloured), which would allow the user to become hyper lucid, to see things simply and clearly. Or your herione starts a new business, where she has all the staff dress in white uniforms? The options are endless one you begin to understand the qualities of colour.

Of course, as writers, we want our white to deliver more than just cleanliness, purity and brightness. We want to use the colour to evoke unpleasant feelings too, whether they be frightening or emotionally disturbing. We know that black can do this, the organic, dark, natural, ancient black. But so can white, when utilized carefully and cleverly.

White is a bright and brilliant colour. Its brilliance that can cause headaches and white-outs. In cases of extremely bright light, either a steady intense flow or a sudden powerful burst, white can be dazzling, disorienting, even blinding.

So, with this particular white we can create the evil snow-queen, Doctor death, or a maze of bright rooms with no visible exit. White is brilliant (excuse the pun) for helping to deliver a psychological scene. Here the white coated doctors smile turns malevolent, a vile grimace!

Further, the use of white in hygienic situations and its association with cleanliness and sterility, as often seen in hospitals, medical centers, laboratories and abattoirs gives rise, not only to great locations, but to the inner fears of our character’s own sensitivities.


That endless maze of white we spoke of before, suddenly splashed with crimson blood. Your characters (friend/sister/mother/father) dead and tortured body is exposed as they turn a corner? Plenty to consider.

Of course, as I mentioned in ‘Understanding Black’, many eastern and Asian cultures regard white as the colour of mourning and de rigueur for funerals, such as in China and many parts of Africa. Something to bear in mind when looking to mirror reality.

In such locations, to see a parade of white clad persons walking along the street does not signal the start of a parade, it is not a sign that mardi-gras is upon us!

Do not use white with abandonment, consider its deeper meanings, take a moment or two to contemplate the ways you can use white to enhance or strengthen your scene. Use it to communicate feeling, happiness or dread, to you readers.

Here are a few terms and phrases associated with white, I hope you find them helpful.

Whiteout”, means zero visibility.

White flag”, is associated with meanings of surrender and relinquishment.

White elephant”, refers an object or structure that is unwanted, often because it is unfit for purpose.

Pearly whites”, a very English term referring to ones’ teeth.

 A “White knight” is someone who comes to the rescue; a good and noble hero.

Away from the pure white, white may be represented by different shades and tints; snow, pearl, antique, ivory, chalk, milk, lily, smoke, seashell, old lace, cream, linen, ghostly, beige, corn-silk, alabaster, paper, and whitewash are all common names.


White is still the color of mourning in China and most parts of Africa. It was once the custom for the Queens of France to wear deuil blanc, or “white mourning”.

White was the color of deepest mourning among medieval European queens, a tradition which survived in Spain until the end of the fifteenth century.

In Chinese culture, colours corresponded with the five primary elements, the directions and the four seasons. White is associated with metal, west and autumn.

The appearance of white in a dream is thought to represent happiness at home.

On Yom Kippur, the Grand Rabbi dresses in white to restore an amicable relationship between God and his people.

For Hindus, white is the colour of pure consciousness, self-illumination and light.

For Buddhists, white is associated with the lotus flower, a symbol of light and purity, knowledge or “illumination” (including the Buddha’s hand gesture). White represents self-mastery and redemption. The figure of the White Tārā is known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity.

In Japan, white is a sacred and pure colour. Historically it is the colour of angels and gods; more recently of doctors, nurses and health professions uniforms, (Japanese refer to nurses as “angels in white”. White is also the colour of cleanliness (important in Japan), while also representing reverence, purity, simplicity. The Japanese associate the white carnation with mourning.

For Indian’s white is associated with unhappiness, death, rebirth, creation, light, serenity and reincarnation. White is the colour of the Brahman (the highest caste).

In Singapore and Malaysia, white is especially associated with respect and is the colour of pilgrimage.

 I am certain you will find some, even if it is just an odd snippet, of this post useful in your current or future writings. I hope so.

Thanks for reading, Paul.


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