Examples of Kairos in Literature

Kairos refers to opportune timing or seizing the perfect moment. In literature, kairos deals with capitalizing on fleeting opportunities at the most pivotal point.

Writers utilize kairos to build suspense, surprise readers, and convey characters seizing or missing key chances. Below are the definition, functions, importance, examples, and literary devices related to kairos.

Definition of Kairos

Kairos is an ancient Greek rhetorical concept meaning the opportune time or supreme moment to act. Unlike chronological time, kairos is more subjective, dealing with moments of opportunity that call for immediate action, wit, and supreme timing. Rhetoricians taught how to recognize and persuade audiences by appealing to kairotic principles at the perfect moment.

Functions of Kairos

Literary functions of kairos include:

  • Building plot tension and suspense
  • Creating pivotal pivoting points in the storyline
  • Surprising readers by suddenly introducing new information or events
  • Providing characters the chance to seize or lose critical opportunities
  • Conveying themes about the fleeting nature of time and importance of timing

Importance of Kairos in Literature

Kairos is important in literature for:

  • Engaging readers by building anticipation about decisive moments
  • Crafting dynamic plots that hinge on timing and characters’ split-second decisions
  • Adding an element of unpredictability, stakes, and realism through spontaneity
  • Allowing opportunities for characters to reveal their true personalities based on their actions when kairotic moments strike
  • Emphasizing life’s ephemeral nature and how small decisions can have big impacts

Examples of Kairos in Literature

Here are seven examples depicting the literary use of kairos:

Example#1

“Hamlet” by Shakespeare

“Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven; And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d: A villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven.”

Hamlet is debating whether it is the right time (kairos) to kill Claudius while he is praying. He initially thinks that it is the perfect chance since Claudius is unsafe while praying. At the next moment, Hamlet realizes that to kill Claudius at prayer would send his soul to heaven, which is not true revenge.

Hamlet decides to wait for a opportune time (kairos) to get his true revenge when Claudius’s soul would not go to heaven. The passage shows Hamlet stuggling with and attempting to discern the appropriate moment to take action against Claudius.

Example#2

“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

“There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.”

The excerpt refers to the moment of epiphany and opportune timing (kairos) when Mrs. Mallard first comprehends that her husband has died and she foresees her freedom. It suggests that in the19th century, husbands dominated their wives according to society’s expectations at the time.

However, the death of Mr. Mallard unties Mrs. Mallard from the obligation imposed by the cultural society. The passing of her husband creates the right moment (kairos) for her to embrace her own independence and identity. It underlines how Mrs. Mallard seizes this time to reclaim her selfhood, especially at the time when she is under no control of her husband.

Example#3

“Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare

“Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again. I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins, that almost freezes up the heat of life.”

Romeo is forced to hastily flee Verona after killing Juliet’s cousin Tybalt. Their brief secret marriage and night together has created an intensely emotional bond between them.

Juliet now fears that Romeo’s banishment means they may be separated indefinitely missing their opportune window (kairos) to truly unite as a married couple. Her “faint cold fear” stems from anxiety over losing Romeo and their chance to consummate, nurture and reveal publicly their nascent love during its most auspicious early timing.

Juliet worries this abruptly forced separation could “freeze up the heat of life” in their relationship before it has time to fully blossom in the way only young, consummated love can. The tragedy is how external forces are denying them their kairic moment as lovers.

Example#4

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.”

The lines come from the end of the story after Ebenezer Scrooge has undergone a profound change of heart following his encounters with various Christmas spirits. His declaration about honoring Christmas all year long relates to his recognition that he wasted many years due to poor timing and missed opportunities (kairos).

Scrooge failed to embrace the present and consider the future repercussions of his choices by living too much in the unhappy past. Scrooge aims to seize the opportune moment (kairos) to alter his miserly ways, make amends and permanently carry the generous and loving spirit of Christmas within his heart.

Example#5

“Jane Eyre” by Brontë

“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

The excerpt captures the appropriate moment (kairos) when Jane defiantly declares her self-worth after fleeing from the marriage proposal of her morally questionable employer namely Mr. Rochester. Jane seizes this time instance to embrace her dignity.

Despite resisting by Rochester to make Jane his mistress, she asserts that regardless of her friendless circumstances, she will still demand respect for her innate self-respect.

The timing of this passionate pronouncement by Jane shows that she is an independent woman and cannot compromise her self-respect and dignity. It is a declaration of empowerment sparked by the crucial timing of the situation.

Example#6

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

“In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins.”

Tom Robinson, a black man, was falsely accused of raping a white woman. At that time, the white jury despite having significant evidence in his favour convicts him. It reveals the racial prejudice of the time. Atticus highlights how the court case represented the opportune moment (kairos) for the justice system to treat a black defendant fairly.

However, the guilty verdict shows the timing was not right for racial equality under the law in that society. The excerpt emphasizes that the ripe conditions for equitable treatment were lacking at that time. This important case was an opportunity to right injustice, but the timing ultimately betrayed how far society had yet to go towards racial fairness and true justice regardless of evidence.

Example#7

“The Hobbit” by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

“What a lucky guess!’ thought Bilbo; and he scrambled in his pocket. ‘Now where is it?'”

Bilbo realizes that he has the opportune chance (kairos) to use the magic ring he found earlier to help the dwarves escape disaster. When Bilbo notices that the guards are sleeping, he thinks that it is a right time to use his secret power of invisibility. It captures Bilbo recognizing the right opening to put the ring to use at last seizing the critical timing that could determine life or death.

Tolkien builds tension around whether Bilbo can physically locate the ring in time before the auspicious timing passes. The excerpt reveals Bilbo’s grasp of a decisive and promising opportunity coupled with the uncertainty of that moment slipping away if he hesitates too long.

Examples of Kairos in Literature
Examples of Kairos in Literature

Literary Devices Related to Kairos

Dramatic irony

When the audience understands something about present timing or situations that characters do not. Creates tension from the opportune moment being recognized by some but not others.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a hint or clue which shows that what will happen next in the story. It is related to kairos because it involves the strategic placement of these hints to prepare the audience for future events. This ensures that when these events occur, they feel timely and impactful.

The effectiveness of foreshadowing depends on its timing; revealing too much too soon or too late can lessen the desired effect. Skillful foreshadowing keeps the readers engaged and makes the narrative’s unfolding feel both surprising and inevitable. This captures the essence of kairos by making every development feel like it occurs at the right moment.

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