The Da Vinci Code is a mystery-detective novel written by Dan Brown in 2003. The book was considered as an attack to the Roman Catholic Church and was forbidden by the clergy. Moreover, despite many scientists agreed that there was a high level of scientific and historical incorrectness, the work was extremely successful and was sold in 80 million copies in 44 languages (Sage). Although the story was provocative and many facts were fabricated, it became a bestseller in many countries. In analyzing the success of the novel, Dan Brown’s expertise in literature techniques to attract and keep readers’ attention should not be taken for granted. One of the key concepts used in works of Dan Brown is the concept of “the gray area.” The writer admits that he is “fascinated by the gray area between right and wrong, good and evil. Every novel I have written explores this gray area.” This is the fact that makes his story vigorous and fresh for readers. In the postmodern literature, most readers perceive the traditional division into bad and good trivial. In The Da Vinci Code, the key to understand the gray area is through historical and religious prisms.
In the book, the writer criticizes traditional historical approach and implies that there cannot be the only correct interpretation of historical facts and events. Teabing asserts, “When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books… As Napoleon once said, “What is history but a fable agreed upon?”” (Brown 276). Such technique of undermining the authority of history as a science that objectively interprets facts and events is used deliberately to stress the fact that historical evidences may also be false.
An effective tool that amplifies the plurality of approaches towards historical facts is creating the feeling that the writer is revealing hidden truth. From this perspective, Brown is perceived by readers as a creator of new history. In an indirect form, the writer opposes current historical tradition by offering the reinterpretation of many facts. In The Da Vinci Code a great number of symbols is utilized, namely those about the pentacle and the Da Vinci fresco of The Last Supper. ““Hold on,” Sophie said. “You told me the Holy Grail is a woman. The Last Supper is a painting of thirteen men.” “Is it?” Teabing arched his eyebrows. “Take a closer look.” . . . How about the one seated in the place of honor, at the right hand of the Lord?” (Brown 243). The writer offers the contradictory interpretation of the Last Supper. By implying that the picture depicts Maria Magdalena and 12 men, he goes beyond the traditional view, beyond the right concept, and takes the position which is treated by the Church as wrong and false.
The concept of the dual nature of interpretation of facts and contradiction with the traditional view is a key in defining the grey area in religious dimension. “If you and I could dig up documentation that contradicted the holy stories of Islamic belief, Judaic belief, Buddhist belief, pagan belief, should we do that?” (Brown 342). The quote implies that the perception of religion may be different depending on the point of view. However, current religious concepts impose the idea of fixed doctrines, rules and traditions excluding the plurality of views. For example, the Church tries to eradicate the belief in women’s divinity, outline the importance of the original sin, etc. Nevertheless, the quote presupposes that it is questionable whether these doctrines should be doubted. People feel safe with them, and it is easier to perceive the world using certain concepts.
In the novel, the Church is described as a powerful tool of changing people. In fact, the influence of the Church has become so huge that even death in the name of the Church can be justified. “Silas could feel his homeland testing him, drawing violent memories from his redeemed soul. His service to God today had required the sin of murder, and it was a sacrifice Silas knew he would have to hold silently…” (Brown 233). Unlike the previous quote, this example illustrates fanatic devotion of many people to the Church and their unpreparedness to accept or even try to understand alternative viewpoints.
To understand the notion from the religious position, it is necessary to analyze the denouement. In the end, when the mystery of Grail is revealed, the writer asserts that it is not necessary to shatter the faith. Brown stresses that people always should be left with choice whether to live with the traditional faith or believe in new facts. Such freedom of choice, when there are no direct rules and dogmas, can be called the gray area.
From the point of physical perception, gray color used to describe the notion was not chosen accidentally. The matter is that gray is in the middle of white and dark. White color represents the clear evidence and facts in the history. Also, white color is associated with the good. In contrast, dark color symbolizes the unknown. Also, usually dark is the color of evil forces. As a result of the combination of white and dark, of known and unknown, gray color is created. From such perspective, gray color may symbolize not only ambiguity of the traditional history, but also harmony of the two opposing forces. Such play of colors is mentioned in the following passage: “Sophie was mesmerized. Sure enough, their clothes were inverse colors. Jesus wore a red robe and blue cloak; Mary Magdalene wore a blue robe and red cloak. Yin and yang” (Brown 244). In the story, Neveu is an example of yin and yang. Together with Langdon, they embody the male and female halves both of which Brown uses as a single protagonist. Therefore, to realize the concept of the “grey area,” it is necessary to be aware of white and dark, the known and unknown, and it depends on an individual which color to choose.
As was illustrated by numerous examples, the writer takes efforts to contradict traditional concepts in historical and religious aspects. However, in the end, the ultimate aim of Brown is revealed: he is not trying to speculate on unproved evidence, but rather to show that there cannot be one correct answer.
Sophie looked skeptical. “My friends who are devout Christians definitely believe that Christ literally walked on water, literally turned water into wine, and was born of a literal virgin birth.”
“My point exactly,” Langdon said. “Religious allegory has become a part of the fabric of reality. And living in that reality helps millions of people cope and be better people.”
“But it appears their reality is false” (Brown 342).
At this point in the story, it becomes clear what is meant by the “gray area.” The writer presupposes that the “grey area” is the symbol of freedom of choice. In reality, facts and events have no meaning on their own. They become meaningful, which is wrong or right, only after personal evaluation. The essence of gray area is to give people ability to evaluate these facts on their own rather than offering already biased attitude towards their interpretation.