Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks

Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” depicts an ordinary diner illuminated by extreme lighting. Though the depiction is that of a commonplace setting, the light places attention on the four figures within the building. As such, this particular emphasis places focus on the interior of the diner itself rather than the area outside it. In contrast to the diner, the sidewalk outside is desolate: There is no one else nearby. The animation of the painting comes from within the diner, though the figures themselves do not engage in any raucous or rowdy activity. One man is seated by himself, while a rather youthful couple appears to converse with the waiter behind the counter. In addition, the placement of the figures suggests a certain remoteness about them. The man to the left of the waiter seems uninterested in the conversation around him; furthermore, the posture of the couple reflects a degree of conservativeness about them.

Interestingly enough, it is the lighting of the diner that gives the entire painting its liveliness. Despite the dismal portrayal of the characters, the luminosity seems to offset the gloominess of the situation by extending beyond the diner itself. It intensifies the vacant block that surrounds the diner, thereby implying that this particular man-made light holds a certain significance that defies the darkness of nighttime. Regardless of what the characters are doing in the painting, the light dramatizes the situation in a way that appeals to the audience’s sensibility. In fact, the lighting serves as an uplifting aspect that attempts to create something positive out of a bleak scene.

Symbolically speaking, the painting reflects the power of technology. Here, light has penetrated every corner of the society that is depicted in it. None of the characters can escape its reach, and none seem to resist it. They simply go about their way, as if this man-made light is simply another commonplace invention that they are accustomed to living with. There is a certain disregard for the light that surrounds them, suggesting that the characters, like society today, has little respect for the wonders of electrical light. Only the audience or the viewer can truly appreciate the lighting in this scene.

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