Examples of Juxtaposition in Literature

What is Juxtaposition?

Juxtaposition is derived from the Latin for “side by side”. It involves placing two contrasting elements next to each other. This contrary placement often serves to highlight differences between the items being juxtaposed.

The writers by developing contrasts can convey irony, metaphor, tensions and revelation. Juxtaposition shows that just because two ideas are brought together, it doesn’t mean they are the same.

Why Do Writers Use Juxtaposition?

The writers use juxtaposition for the following reasons:

  • To emphasize conflicts between disparate ideas or characters
  • Creating irony or paradoxes by subverting expectations
  • Making unique comparisons and associations
  • To convey the complexities of situations that combine opposing conditions
  • To inject unpredictability and engage readers through contrast
  • Communicating deeper symbolic or thematic meaning

Importance of Using Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is an important technique because it:

  • Generates complexity, irony and social commentary in writing
  • Juxtaposition crafts nuance by adjusting readers’ perceptions through context
  • It allows unique linkages between dissimilar concepts to create new insights
  • Highlights key tensions and themes in compelling ways
  • Adds diversity and interplay of perspectives rather than just presenting one side
  • Ultimately crafts a more multidimensional representation of people, ideas, periods, etc.

Examples of Juxtaposition in Literature

1. “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…”

Dickens uses juxtaposition to contrast opposing ideas in the opening lines. He sets up a series of contradictions about the time period – “the best of times,” yet also “the worst of times;” an “age of wisdom,” yet simultaneously an “age of foolishness.”

The repetition of “it was” underscores how all these qualities coexisted. By positioning such extremes right next to each other, Dickens creates an intriguing tension and draws readers into the complex setting of late 18th century England and France on the brink of revolution.

This rhetorical device immediately conveys the time’s contrasts and paradoxes.

2. “Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys

“It was a song about a white cockroach. That’s me. That’s what they call all of us who were here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders.”

The writer uses juxtaposition to contrast the white Creoles in the West Indies with the African slaves. The narrator identifies herself as a “white cockroach”, which is a derogatory term used for white Creoles who had settled in the islands before the African slave trade began.

Rhys sharply contrasts the cruelty of the native Africans with the maltreatment now endured by both whites and blacks in the West Indies. The juxtaposition heightens the complex racial tensions and injustices that whites, Africans and mixed races faced in the history of the Caribbean islands.

It also sets up an intricate dynamic between Antoinette as a white Creole and her husband Rochester, an Englishman, as key to the story. The racial contrasts and paradoxes are made vivid and compelling through this brief but powerful juxtaposition.

3. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Her frightened eyes were the eyes of a night prowler hovering outside his lighted windows.”

The excerpt captures Daisy’s emotional state as she reunites with Gatsby, her former love. Fitzgerald juxtaposes contrasting images – Daisy’s “frightened eyes” and the “eyes of a night prowler.”

This pairing emphasizes how vulnerable and scared Daisy feels, while also hinting at a sense of lurking danger. It’s an unsettling combination that suggests Daisy is both anxious and reckless in this moment.

The second juxtaposition places Daisy on the outside peering in to Gatsby’s “lighted windows”, which emphasizes her position as an outsider uncertainly looking back into her past relationship.

He juxtaposes these conflicting descriptions and locations to convey the tense mix of hope, unease and hesitation that Daisy experiences in her reunion with Gatsby.

4. “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston

“She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her.”

It depicts Janie lying peacefully under a pear tree taking in the sensuous natural world around her. Hurston juxtaposes rich sensory details like “the alto chant of the visiting bees” and “the panting breath of the breeze” with the “inaudible voice of it all.”

Hurston sets up a dichotomy between physical senses and an ineffable inner experience to highlight Janie’s epiphanic moment.

The juxtaposition of tangible nature and its inaudible voice conveys how Janie is both absorbing the lovely, alive setting while simultaneously awakening to an inner self-realization prompted by the transcendent beauty around her.

The contrast gives power to the passage’s depiction of Janie’s emergence into an assured, integrated identity through her communion with nature.

5. “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

“I must be cruel only to be kind; Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.”

Hamlet appears after he resolves to use a cruel ploy against his mother in order to reveal the truth about the death of his father. Shakespeare sets up an ironic juxtaposition between “cruel” and “kind” motives.

Hamlet justifies being cruel to his mother as the only way to properly avenge his father, which he sees as his filial duty. Shakespeare juxtaposes the contrasting ideas to add moral complexity.

When Hamlet then warns that “bad begins” through his scheme and “worse remains behind,” the dark uncertainty builds, it emphasizes risks of setting darker actions in motion even for seemingly just reasons.

The paired contrast between “cruel” and “kind” followed by “bad” and “worse” conveys the ambiguous morality around Hamlet’s vengeful choice, which leads the readers to question if the ends justify such means.

6. “1984” by George Orwell

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

The author establishes a sense of confusion and unease through juxtaposition. He first sets the scene with familiar imagery of a crisp, vibrant April day with “bright cold” weather.

This is promptly contrasted with the jarringly abnormal detail of “clocks striking thirteen.” The pleasant connotations of April and its association with rebirth and renewal are pitted against the unnatural and disorienting idea of a clock, which indicates thirteen hours.

Orwell introduces the dystopian world of 1984, where normalcy and logic are turned upside down by totalitarian control.

The juxtaposition hints at a world distorted by contradictory propaganda and the dark, hidden workings of Oceania’s surveillance state.

The writer uses the device to immediately convey an unnerving world of opposites colliding wielding juxtaposition to sound an alarm about society’s dangerous future path if totalitarian forces are left unchecked.

Related Terms

Irony

Juxtaposition is often used to create ironic contrasts between expectations and realities. Situations or statements take on ironic meanings when contrasting elements are positioned next to each other. The interplay between the juxtaposed items creates the irony.

Paradox

Juxtaposing two seemingly contradictory or mutually exclusive concepts can create a paradox. The side-by-side placement of disparate ideas that challenges assumptions creates a paradoxical tension. Readers must reconcile how both juxtaposed elements can be true simultaneously.

See also: Examples of Jargon in Literature

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