The Satirical Element in “The Boom in Yellow”
“The Boom in Yellow” by Richard La Gallienne is an essay which discusses yellow. La Gallienne is writing about how wonderful, brilliant and majestic yellow is. The essay has an element of satire to it, although it is not wholly satirical. He spends much of the essay writing and comparing other colors as well as yellow. There is a paragraph towards the middle of this writing where he writes about the most important things that are yellow. La Gallienne argues that the sun can reasonably be described as the most important object in the world with money being the second most important. He argues that fire, which is also very important, is yellow or gold as well and only burns other colors in times of danger. The paragraph is split into two as he references a song about golden hair. In this one paragraph alone, the author goes from writing with admiration about yellow to speaking of it with some sarcasm. He mentions that yellow (or golden) hair is the loveliest thing in the world, even when it is natural or unnatural. Indeed, many times people bleach their hair to try and achieve this color. He suggests this may not be art but rather simply hydrogen peroxide. This paragraph is an important part of the essay because it clearly illustrates La Gallinne’s point: yellow is beautiful and bright but at the same time it is just a color.
The beginning of this paragraph starts with La Gallienne pointing out that yellow is the color of many important things. He mentions the sun, money and fire. This leads the reader to believe that yellow must then be just as important as these three objects. He is arguing that since the sun is so important, the color of it must be equally as important. This same argument applies to money (or rather the highest currency of money: gold) as well as fire. He must take time to explain that fire may burn colors other than yellow or gold but that only happens in times of superstition. This part of the paragraph, like much of the essay, feels like a very serious argument as to why yellow must be the best and most important color. Not only is it the color of these very important things but it is also used in poetry and favorite phrases. He ensures that by picking phrases where yellow is the central focus that he makes his point. His entire argument at this point is about how important yellow is, not just in terms of art or décor but rather essentially to society. Without the yellow sun there would be no life, without yellow money there would be no wealth and without yellow fire there would be no warmth.
This argument continues as the paragraph progresses. La Gallienne concedes that yellow is obviously not a common eye color and is not an attractive eye color. However, yellow (rather gold) is the color of the “loveliest thing in the world, the hair of women.” At this point he is still presenting his arguments for how important yellow truly is. It is after all, the best feminine hair color. It appears he is going to continue the same theme; however, the mention of hair color in this paragraph shifts the general argument and feeling. It is at this point that the author does a shift from the serious praise of yellow to the satirical praise of yellow. He points out that yellow (or gold) is the loveliest of hair and so much so that many dye their much darker hair to achieve that kind of a color. It is unfortunate, he writes in a humorous tone, for those people who must suffer with darker colored hair. Songs have been written about women with yellow (or golden) hair; therefore it is a very high form of beauty to have this color hair. It appears he is still making the same argument here, as above. Because poetry and phrases and songs all reference the color, it must be a high form of art; it must be so important. However, he does not sound as though he has convinced even himself.
The paragraph becomes more and more satirical as it goes on until it ends. He writes that “only the bravest and fairest men and women have golden hair.” However he knows full well that this is not a proven statistic or something that has even the slightest evidence. Since it is so important to have yellow hair, it is now common for many (men and women both) to color their own hair. This final line in the paragraph where he juxtaposes the lover of art’s reaction “beauty!” the cynic’s reaction with “Peroxide of Hydrogen!” with regards to bleached hair speaks volumes for the entire essay. The author is showing that yellow is simply a color, no matter how important the decadent style of art made it in terms of art and beauty. Like bleached hair, it is just another trend, just another color. In this paragraph and in the entire essay La Gallienne uses the yellow theme to very subtly poke fun at the entire idea of decadence. This paragraph is an essential element to the rest of the essay because he clearly shows both sides of his writing. He does seriously argue for the importance of yellow, but he also eagerly shows how ridiculous that argument is. He has no problem doing both.
La Gallienne, Richard. “The Boom in Yellow.” VictorianWeb, http://www.victorianweb.org/decadence/lagalliene1.html