Antithesis Vs Juxtaposition (Examples & Importance)

Juxtaposition and antithesis stand out as two literary devices writers employ to make impactful comparisons between contrasting concepts, ideas or imagery using language, structure and formatting approaches.

What is Antithesis?

Antithesis refers to the use of contrasting parallel structures representing absolute opposites of each other, often in grammatically-balanced clauses or phrases. The contrasts are positioned right next to each other for comparison. This literary device constructs balanced sentences to express differences between two things using parallel structure as a rhetorical strategy.

What is Juxtaposition?

Juxtaposition refers to placing two contrasting concepts, characters, objects or settings side-by-side to highlight their differences. By positioning the two elements next to each other, writers underscore key contrasts between them for rhetorical effect. Readers then notice the glaring inconsistencies.

Common types of juxtaposition involve contradictory ideas, opposing imagery, differences in characters and time periods. Writers leverage unexpected combinations to emphasize ironies.

Examples of Juxtaposition

  1. Old and Young
  2. Wealthy and Impoverished
  3. Light and Darkness
  4. Joy and Sorrow
  5. War and Peace
  6. Justice and Injustice
  7. Life and Death
  8. Past and Present
  9. Fiction and Fact
  10. Tall and Short

Antithesis Examples

  1. “When the rich wage war it’s the poor who die.” This antithesis contrasts concepts of wealth and poverty using parallel grammatical structure.
  2. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” The parallelism in the opening of A Tale of Two Cities sets up antithetical ideas about contrasting time periods.
  3. “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” This phrase antithetically balances human fallibility with godly forgiveness.
  4. “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” JFK’s famous line pairs contradictory statements using parallel structure.
  5. “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong set up spatial contrasts antithetically by opposing “small” and “giant” steps.
  6. “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” This witty quote sets up an antithesis by contrasting “right” and “left” using a parallel structure.
  7. “A penny saved is a penny earned.” This proverb contrasts parallel verbs “saved” and “earned” to link contradictory ideas antithetically about wages and savings.
  8. “To live or not to live, that is the question.” This parody of Hamlet’s soliloquy poses an antithetical choice between life and death.
  9. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child…” In Corinthians, Paul uses antithesis comparing contrasting ideas about maturity.
  10. “I can resist everything except temptation.” In this witty line, Oscar Wilde sets up a humorous antithesis playing on the idea of giving into vice.

Read also: What is antithesis? Examples in literature

Examples of Antithesis in literature

Example#1

“Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare

“O brawling love! O loving hate! O any thing, of nothing first create!”

This antithesis features extensive use of parallel grammatical structure contrasting contradictory ideas – “brawling love” and “loving hate” pose opposites using syntactic pairs. The second line also sets up antithetical relationships between “anything” and “nothing” as well as “first” and “create” through verb inversion. Shakespeare underscores the tensions between extremes.

Example#2

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

The opening lines repeatedly contrast opposing concepts in parallel formation – “best” vs “worst”, “wisdom” vs “foolishness”. The syntactic symmetry draws attention to comparative nuances between polarized times periods to highlight social tensions.

Example#3

JFK’s Inaugural Address

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Kennedy sets up opposites using parallel structure. He contrasts “ask not what your country can do for you” with “ask what you can do for your country.” This frames conflicting ideas about self-interest versus duty to serve. The antithesis spotlights the reversed relationship. It makes the listener think more deeply about their responsibility to country rather than personal gains. This highlights patriotic values. The syntactic symmetry draws attention to the comparison between clashing concepts.

Examples of Juxtaposition in literature

Example#1

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house.”

The passage juxtaposes stillness and motion. It contrasts the stationary couch with the moving women’s dresses. The couch is solid, enormous, anchored. But the dresses softly flutter. This pairing of opposite imagery underscores differences. It highlights comparative qualities between stability and flightiness. The unexpected combination engages readers. It makes them notice ironies. This provokes deeper reflection on impermanence versus permanence. The crisp imagery lets readers feel both weight and weightlessness simultaneously through contrast.

Example#2

“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut

“The Americans and the Germans had fought the same war. The generals were only interested in victory. The people were only interested in getting home again.”

Here, the writer juxtaposes the interests of the generals and the common people. The generals are focused on “victory”, while the common people want to “get home again”. This juxtaposition emphasizes the disconnect between the priorities of the powerful people and the desires of the citizens caught up in the war.

Example#3

“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current, waiting for a fly. There were always trout in the streams. The brown and the yellow and the black. A family would have only to go to the nearest stream and fish, and they did. But the trout went out, the water went out, all of it went out, and they did not come back.”

It contrasts past and present. First, lively description of trout filled streams. Fish standing, waiting, always there before. Then, stark change occurs. Short sentence: “But the trout went out.” The water also gone. Nothing left. All that life and abundance now disappeared, not returned. This fuses discordant imagery of vibrance and bleakness, abundance and utter loss, side by side. Unexpected switch highlights shocking environmental destruction. Makes readers reflect on damages industry can bring. Contrast underscores the fragility of nature’s balance when man intervenes ignorantly. Brief passage carries weighty message through crisp juxtaposition.

Importance of Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is an important literary device because:

  1. Highlighting unlikely contrasts side-by-side accentuates ironies more impactfully.
  2. Its unexpected combinations engage readers creatively.
  3. Juxtapositions can reveal deeper underlying truths.
  4. It adds introspection by comparing contradictory elements.

Importance of Antithesis

  1. Contrasting perfectly balanced clauses creates eloquent rhetorical effect.
  2. Parallel grammatical symmetry draws attention to the equivalency of opposites.
  3. It allows nuanced comparison between polarized ideas.
  4. Antithesis memorably articulates complex tensions.

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