The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

by

Kate DiCamillo

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Light and Dark Symbol Analysis

Light and Dark Symbol Icon

Light represents good things (such as hope, love, kindness, and beauty) while dark things and places represent evil. The narrator aligns Despereaux, the novel’s protagonist, with light and goodness the moment he’s born—he’s born with his eyes open, and he watches a patch of light on the ceiling. From this moment on, Despereaux is transfixed by things like stained-glass windows, candles, and the Princess Pea, who herself seems to radiate light. And the Kingdom of Dor’s name is a play on the French word for “golden,” suggesting that the kingdom itself is aligned with bright things and goodness.

However, the kingdom’s association with good and hope doesn’t mean it doesn’t also have dark, evil elements or places—such as the dungeon, which the narrator describes as a place of hopelessness, fear, and torment. There, where there is no light, rats (which the narrator also suggests are the embodiment of evil) rule and make every prisoner’s life miserable. And most rats, like Botticelli Remorso, want to live their lives in darkness and in evil. Botticelli, for his part, implies that he speaks for all rats when he insists that the meaning of life is causing suffering.

But the relationship between light and dark in the Kingdom of Dor isn’t as simple as good things happening where it’s light and bright, and bad things happening in the darkness of the dungeon. Chiaroscuro himself—a rat who, unlike most rats, longs for light and beauty—embodies the idea that light and dark aren’t actually just opposites but work together to create places, people, and scenes that are rich and complex. In art, chiaroscuro refers to the relationship between light and dark areas on a drawing or painting; the lights and darks create the impression that a form is rounded, for instance. Roscuro, as a rat who longs for the light, has both light and dark elements within him—just like the Kingdom of Dor, and just like every person or mouse in it. With this idea, the novel shows how good can only exist if evil also exists to create contrast, and vice versa.

Light and Dark Quotes in The Tale of Despereaux

The The Tale of Despereaux quotes below all refer to the symbol of Light and Dark. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
).
Chapter 1  Quotes

While Antoinette touched up her eye makeup, the mouse father put Despereaux down on a bed made of blanket scraps. The April sun, weak but determined, shone through a castle window and from there squeezed itself through a small hole in the wall and placed one golden finger on the little mouse.

Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

He was staring at the light pouring in through the stained-glass windows of the castle. He stood on his hind legs and held his handkerchief over his heart and stared up, up, up into the brilliant light.

“Furlough,” he said, “what is this thing? What are all these colors? Are we in heaven?”

“Cripes!” shouted Furlough from a far corner. “Don’t stand there in the middle of the floor talking about heaven. Move! You’re a mouse, not a man. You’ve got to scurry.”

“What?” said Despereaux, still staring at the light.

Related Characters: Despereaux Tilling (speaker), Furlough Tilling (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 20-21
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

“Why would you save me, then?”

“Because you, mouse, can tell Gregory a story. Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”

Related Characters: Despereaux Tilling (speaker), Gregory (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

Reader, do you know the definition of the word “chiaroscuro”? If you look in your dictionary, you will find that it means the arrangement of light and dark, darkness and light together. Rats do not care for light. Roscuro’s parents were having a bit of fun when they named their son. Rats have a sense of humor. Rats, in fact, think that life is very funny. And they are right, reader. They are right.

Related Characters: Chiaroscuro “Roscuro”
Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 85-86
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

“A rat is a rat is a rat. End of story. World without end. Amen.”

“Yes,” said Roscuro. “Amen, I am a rat.” He closed his eyes. He saw, again, the red cloth spinning against the backdrop of gold.

And he told himself, reader, that it was the cloth that he desired and not the light.

Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 92-93
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

And the little princess! How lovely she was! How much like light itself. Her gown was covered in sequins that winked and glimmered at the rat. And when she laughed, and she laughed often, everything around her seemed to glow brighter.

“Oh, really,” said Roscuro, “this is too extraordinary. This is too wonderful. I must tell Botticelli that he was wrong. Suffering is not the answer. Light is the answer.”

Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

Rat.

In the middle of all that beauty, it immediately became clear that it was an extremely distasteful syllable.

Rat.

A curse, an insult, a word totally without light. And not until he heard it from the mouth of the princess did Roscuro realize that he did not like being a rat, that he did not want to be a rat.

Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

“Go back to the dungeon” was what the look she gave him said. “Go back into the darkness where you belong.”

This look, reader, broke Roscuro’s heart.

Did you think that rats do not have hearts? Wrong. All living things have a heart. And the heart of any living thing can be broken.

If the rat had not looked over his shoulder, perhaps his heart would not have broken. And it is possible, then, that I would not have a story to tell.

But, reader, he did look.

Related Symbols: Light and Dark, Soup
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26 Quotes

Looking at the royal family had awakened some deep and slumbering need in her; it was if a small candle had been lit in her interior, sparked to life by the brilliance of the king and the queen and the princess.

For the first time in her life, reader, Mig hoped.

And hope is like love…a ridiculous, wonderful, powerful thing.

Mig tried to name this strange emotion; she put a hand up to touch one of her aching ears, and she realized that the feeling she was experiencing, the hope blooming inside of her, felt exactly the opposite of a good clout.

Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 35 Quotes

He dreamt of the stained-glass windows and the dark of the dungeon. In Despereaux’s dream, the light came to life, brilliant and glorious, in the shape of a knight swinging a sword. The knight fought the dark.

And the dark took many shapes. First the dark was his mother, uttering phrases in French. And then the dark became his father beating the drum. The dark was Furlough wearing a black hood and shaking his head no. And the dark became a huge rat smiling a smile that was evil and sharp.

Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 36 Quotes

And while the mouse slept, Roscuro put his terrible plan into effect. Would you like to hear, reader, how it all unfolded? The story is not a pretty one. There is violence in it. And cruelty. But stories that are not pretty have a certain value too, I suppose. Everything, as you well know (having lived in this world long enough to have figured out a thing or two for yourself), cannot always be sweetness and light.

Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 38 Quotes

And what of the light in the princess’s heart? Reader, I am pleased to tell you that the Pea was a kind person, and perhaps more important, she was empathetic. Do you know what it means to be empathetic?

I will tell you: it means that when you are being forcibly taken to a dungeon, when you have a large knife pointed at your back, when you are trying to be brave, you are able, still, to think for a moment of the person who is holding that knife.

You are able to think: “Oh, poor Mig, she wants to be a princess so badly and she thinks that this is the way. Poor, poor Mig. What must it be like to want something that desperately?”

Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

He put a nervous paw up to his neck and pulled at the red thread, and suddenly his dream came flooding back to him…the dark and the light and the knight swinging his sword and the terrible moment when he had realized that the suit of armor was empty.

And then, reader, as he stood before the king, a wonderful, amazing thought occurred to the mouse. What if the suit of armor had been empty for a reason? What if it had been empty because it was waiting?

For him.

Page Number: 214-15
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 51 Quotes

Despereaux held his trembling needle against Roscuro’s heart. The mouse knew that as a knight, it was his duty to protect the princess. But would killing the rat make the darkness go away?

Page Number: 262
Explanation and Analysis:

And the smell of soup crashed through his soul like a great wave, bringing with it the memory of light, the chandelier, the music, the laughter, everything, all the things that were not, would never, could never be available to him as a rat.

Soup,” moaned Roscuro.

And he began to cry.

[…]

“Kill me,” said Roscuro. He fell down before Despereaux. “It will never work. All I wanted was some light. This is why I brought the princess here, really, just for some beauty…some light of my own.”

Related Symbols: Light and Dark, Soup
Page Number: 262-63
Explanation and Analysis:

I think, reader, that she was feeling the same thing that Despereaux had felt when he was faced with his father begging him for forgiveness. That is, Pea was aware suddenly of how fragile her heart was, how much darkness was inside it, fighting, always, with the light. She did not like the rat. She would never like the rat, but she knew what she must do to save her own heart.

And so, here are the words that the princess spoke to her enemy.

She said, “Roscuro, would you like some soup?”

Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Tale of Despereaux PDF

Light and Dark Symbol Timeline in The Tale of Despereaux

The timeline below shows where the symbol Light and Dark appears in The Tale of Despereaux. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
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...to side, always checking over his shoulder. But Despereaux isn’t listening: he’s staring at the light coming through the stained glass windows. He asks Furlough if they’re in heaven, but Furlough... (full context)
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Next, Merlot takes Despereaux into the castle library. Light streams in through the tall windows, but Merlot ignores it. She invites Despereaux to come... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
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...him, which gives Despereaux the freedom to do what he wants. He stares at the light coming through windows and reads the story in the library many times. He also finally... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...are rodents and so are related to rats—and the Pea must never forget the family’s “dark history with rats.” It’s essential, he continues, for royalty to not get involved with one’s... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...punished by going to the dungeon and to the rats. Despereaux’s heart sinks: there’s no light in the dungeons, let alone stories or the Princess Pea. (full context)
Chapter 14
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Principles, Courage, and Growing Up Theme Icon
...smells of “despair and suffering of hopelessness,” which is the smell of rats. Also, the darkness is so thick that it’s almost its own creature. Despereaux can’t even see his own... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...in a big, calloused human hand, staring at a big human eye that reflects the light of a single match. The voice—Gregory—says that Despereaux is a mouse with red thread, and... (full context)
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...navigate this place. The rats know how to get around because the dungeon mirrors their “dark hearts”; Gregory navigates thanks to the rope tied to his ankle. Gregory warns Despereaux that... (full context)
Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...die. Despereaux explains that he’s in love and must serve his love. At this, Gregory lights a match. The light illuminates a towering pile of spoons, kettles, and soup bowls—a “monument... (full context)
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Principles, Courage, and Growing Up Theme Icon
...but he’ll save Despereaux because Despereaux can tell him a story. Stories, Gregory says, are light. So Despereaux, desperate to live, starts his story again. This is how he becomes the... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...years to the day that a rat named Chiaroscuro, nicknamed Roscuro, is born in the dark dungeon. Despereaux will be born upstairs in the light in a few years. Chiaroscuro, the... (full context)
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...his rope. Roscuro refuses to answer, so Gregory says he’ll teach Roscuro a lesson. He lights a match and holds it up to Roscuro’s face, and though Roscuro pulls away, the... (full context)
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Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Principles, Courage, and Growing Up Theme Icon
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...still see the flame dancing before his eyes and he repeats one word to himself: light. After this, Roscuro becomes abnormally interested in light. He longs for light deep in his... (full context)
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...have his own prisoner. Then he’ll be a real rat who isn’t concerned with the light. Still swinging the locket, Botticelli tells Roscuro that he’ll be a real, evil rat who... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...suffer. However, as the door to the dungeon flies open and lets in bright afternoon sunlight, Botticelli covers his eyes, and Roscuro stares right into the light and gasps with wonder.... (full context)
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...want to live in the mice’s world. Roscuro continues to stare at the sliver of light under the door as Botticelli tells him to torture the prisoner and take the man’s... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...nest. Upon closer inspection, the cloth is disappointing. Roscuro knows now that he needs the light, not the cloth—and he knows that to get the light, he needs to go upstairs. (full context)
Chapter 19
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The narrator asks the reader to imagine spending one’s whole life in a dark dungeon and then stepping out one spring day into a world that’s bright, with sparkling... (full context)
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...gown glitters, and her laugh seems to make things glow. Roscuro is certain now that light, not suffering, is the answer to everything. He invites himself to the party. (full context)
Chapter 20
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...and forth, admiring the music, the smell of the good food, and the bright, beautiful light. But not even the loud party can hide Roscuro forever—the Princess Pea spots him and... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...Pea glaring at him with a look that tells him to go back to the dark dungeon, where he belongs. This look breaks Roscuro’s heart—yes, even rats have hearts, like all... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...of the banquet hall, he tells himself that he’s a rat, and that there’s no light for rats—there’s no light for him. Suddenly, Roscuro reaches the queen’s soup spoon. He says... (full context)
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...shouts for his men to find the rat, Roscuro mutters that he’ll be in the dark dungeon. (full context)
Chapter 31
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...as she continues down the stairs, telling herself that she’d be glittery and full of light if she was a princess. She even sings a song about becoming the Princess Pea... (full context)
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...never imagined there were so many spoons in the world. A booming voice in the dark says there’s more to the world than anyone can imagine—and next to Mig, Roscuro says... (full context)
Chapter 34
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Principles, Courage, and Growing Up Theme Icon
...Despereaux in his napkin and placed him on Mig’s tray, he whispered, “back to the light.” Now, Mig enters the kitchen with the tray and loudly announces to Cook that she’s... (full context)
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Despereaux picks his head up and admires how beautiful the light streaming in through the windows is. Mig puts her face down close to his and... (full context)
Chapter 35
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The sun sets, and Despereaux dreams about stained-glass windows and the dungeon. The light suddenly comes to life and becomes the knight, which fights with the dark. The dark... (full context)
Chapter 36
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...have value too, and readers are surely aware that life “cannot always be sweetness and light.” First, Roscuro chews through Gregory’s rope, causing Gregory to get lost in the dungeon. Then,... (full context)
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...than the one he shared with Mig. He’s going to take the princess to the darkest part of the dungeon, have Mig chain the princess up, and keep the glittering princess... (full context)
Chapter 38
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...soup. Despereaux is asleep not far away from Cook, in the pantry, dreaming of knights, darkness, and light. Mig’s candle is the only light in the whole castle. (full context)
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...all the other characters. The Pea’s heart is complicated, like most hearts are. There are dark parts: she hates Roscuro for killing her mother, and there’s a huge dark spot of... (full context)
Chapter 39
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The sun rises, “shed[ding] light on what Roscuro and Miggery Sow had done.” Despereaux wakes up to hear Louise and... (full context)
Chapter 43
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...Hovis believes in him, so Despereaux continues on and notices too late that there’s a light in the kitchen. Cook is there, stirring soup on the stove. She’s smiling, and the... (full context)
Chapter 44
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Principles, Courage, and Growing Up Theme Icon
...as Cook lifts her candle, approaches, and asks whose ears are behind the spool. The light from the candle illuminates Despereaux’s face, and Despereaux prepares for his death. But instead of... (full context)
Chapter 46
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At the top of the dungeon stairs, Despereaux peers down into the darkness. He’d already forgotten how dark the dungeon is, and the terrible smell of rats and... (full context)
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The story works to lift Despereaux’s spirits, and his eyes soon adjust to the dark. He works his way down the stairs, whispering a story to himself about a rat,... (full context)
Chapter 48
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...hold. But Despereaux holds onto Botticelli’s tail, and soon, his eyes adjust to the dungeon’s dark. It’d be better if they hadn’t, because Despereaux can see that the dungeon floor is... (full context)
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...asks Despereaux to open his eyes and say what he sees. Despereaux does: he sees light ahead. (full context)
Chapter 49
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...sit together for an entire day, as one candle burns out and they have to light another. They might still be there, if a mouse hadn’t shown up. (full context)
Chapter 51
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...knight, he must protect the princess, but he’s not sure killing Roscuro will “make the darkness go away.” He bows his head, which causes his whiskers to brush Roscuro’s nose. Roscuro... (full context)
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...hiss at him. Roscuro begs Despereaux to kill him and says he just wanted some light. He kidnapped the princess because he wanted some beauty and some light for himself. Botticelli... (full context)
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...when Lester asked him for forgiveness. That is to say, the Pea realizes how much darkness there is in her heart, and she realizes it’s always fighting with the light in... (full context)
Coda
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...thought of them as a mouse telling a story to save their life from the darkness—and to save the reader from the darkness too. Gregory said to Despereaux that “stories are... (full context)