Juxtaposition Vs Dichotomy (Examples & Differences)

Juxtaposition and dichotomy represent two important literary devices that writers utilize to convey deeper meaning through contrasting concepts.

What is Juxtaposition?

Juxtaposition refers to two contrasting ideas, characters, objects and settings side-by-side to highlight their differences. This literary technique positions the two elements next to each other. The writers emphasizes the key contrasts between them for creating rhetorical effect. Readers notice the innate inconsistencies.

What is Dichotomy?

A dichotomy is a division into two mutually exclusive, opposed and contradictory groups or entities. In literature, it often manifests through characters, situations and ideas that are polarized into two distinct, often conflicting sides.

Dichotomies may include good or evil, civilization or wilderness, justice or injustice, war and peace, etc. Unlike a spectrum, a dichotomy strictly categorizes elements into binary sets. Writers use this technique to heighten drama through polarization.

Examples of Juxtaposition

  1. The king wears a gold crown, while the peasants go hungry.
  2. The computer is state-of-the-art, but the furniture is broken and old.
  3. The race car zoomed by while the tortoise crawled slowly.
  4. The mansion has many empty rooms, yet homeless people sleep on the streets.
  5. One child has hundreds of toys; another has none.
  6. The reality star spends millions on parties, though children starve worldwide.
  7. My hands were cold while my chest felt hot from the fire.
  8. The CEO gained billions while workers lost jobs.
  9. My friend was laughing but I was crying over the breakup.
  10. The baby smiles innocently, unaware of the war raging outside.

See also: What is Juxtaposition? Different Examples in Literature

Examples of Dichotomy

  1. The book offers entertainment or boredom depending on my mood.
  2. The politician’s speech presented ideas that were wise yet unrealistic.
  3. The painter feels both joy and frustration when creating artwork.
  4. The dessert looks delicious yet unhealthy given my diet.
  5. Tom appears quiet but has a fiery temper when angry.
  6. The job change promises more money or more time with family.
  7. The house has beautiful features and serious problems needing repair.
  8. Emma seems confident, but suffers from anxiety in crowds.
  9. We felt hopeful about the medical test results and fearful of bad news.
  10. The soldier swings rapidly between boredom at camp and terror in battle.

Read also:
Juxtaposition Vs Paradox
Juxtaposition Vs Oxymoron
Juxtaposition Vs Parallelism

Juxtaposition vs. Dichotomy

Contrasts differences between two elements by placing them side-by-sideStrictly categorizes elements into binary, mutually exclusive sets
Emphasizes ironies and inconsistenciesHeightens drama through polarization of opposites
Evokes deeper reflection on comparative qualitiesRepresents absolute divisions rather than spectrums
Elements may have gradationsNo middle ground – things deemed on one side or other

Examples of Juxtaposition in Literature


“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified.”

Nick learns that Gatsby earned his fortune through illegal bootlegging operations. He cannot personally excuse or approve of Gatsby’s criminal activities. Yet Nick grasps that by Gatsby’s own inverted logic, his law-breaking served a higher purpose – to gain enough wealth and status to reunite with his lost love Daisy and achieve his dream future. The excerpt juxtaposes two opposing viewpoints: Nick’s moral condemnation of Gatsby’s crimes ( “I couldn’t forgive him or like him”) and Gatsby’s ends-justify-the-means reasoning that validates his unethical choices as necessary for his bigger goals ( “what he had done was, to him, entirely justified”).

This clash between Nick’s principled rejection of illegal wrongdoing and Gatsby’s internal cognitive distortions which permit his misconduct exemplifies the novel’s broader tensions. Personal integrity conflicts with ambition, old money with new, and reckless hope with sobering reality. Nick admires Gatsby’s capacity for wonder while abhorring his criminal means. This dichotomy symbolizes how the 1920s economic boom also enabled social and moral corner-cutting. Fitzgerald questions whether the American Dream has veered off course from its optimistic vision.


“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

“Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more.”

The famous line comes after Lady Macbeth’s death, as Macbeth processes the meaninglessness of life. It juxtaposes two opposing ideas. One is the insignificance of a single human life, which is brief and transient. Metaphorically, life is like a small candle flame that can easily go out, or an actor that exits the stage after a short performance. The second is the grandiosity and ambition that humans pursue in their limited lifetimes. People “strut and fret” and battle and grasp for power and position, when in truth these last only “an hour upon the stage” of life.

This juxtaposition between the brevity of existence and the intensity with which people chase status highlights the irony of the human condition. We act as if earthly pursuits matter greatly, when life itself disappears quickly. Macbeth is an especially stark example – he sells his soul and murders ruthlessly to gain the crown, only to lose everything in the end. His wife dies, his power is taken, and he realizes too late that life’s glittering prizes cannot substitute for meaning, integrity or relationships. They fade as fast as a candle blown out.


“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Austen juxtaposes the “truth” of what’s supposedly universally believed, with the ironic reality that money attracts interest from single women seeking financial security. It contrasts surface truth with an underlying ulterior motive.

Related post: Juxtaposition Examples In Disney Movies

Examples of Dichotomy In Literature


“Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson

“All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil.”

This captures the core theme of the duality of human nature – the story is about the struggle between good and evil as conflicting parts within one man’s psyche.


“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

“Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.”

Huck states a simple principle – that there is a clear distinction between right and wrong and people should not willfully choose wrong when they have the knowledge and capacity to choose right instead. However, the irony lies in the fact that Huck himself does not actually apply this moral maxim in his own life and choices.

In helping his friend Jim, a runaway slave, escape to freedom, Huck deliberately goes against the “moral” standards of his Southern antebellum society – standards that clearly dictate protecting property rights and returning “stolen” slaves to their owners. Yet in following his own conscience and sense of decency, Huck sticks by Jim despite believing he’s committing a sinful transgression of social and legal codes. Huck elevates the higher “right” of loyalty and human dignity over manmade laws that label Jim as stolen property rather than a fellow human being.


“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!”

The excerpt exemplifies the dichotomy between outward appearance and inward reality. The community pressures Hester to reveal hidden shameful secrets that contradict her public image. It creates tension between people’s visible exterior versus their concealed interior truths. In the novel, the religious Puritan society places high value on moral righteousness, propriety and repressing sinful impulses. Yet they simultaneously display striking intolerance, legalism, pride, cruelty, and suppression of natural desires.

This dichotomy between righteous exteriors masking inner “sin” gets embodied in Hester’s scarlet letter itself – the glaring symbol of her public condemnation and humiliation. Yet she transforms it by the novel’s end into a different symbol of deeper morality.

Importance of Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition allows writers to highlight ironies and inconsistencies by positioning contrasting elements together. The key functions of juxtaposition include:

  • Emphasize differences through unexpected combinations
  • Forcing deeper reflection through comparative analysis
  • Adding creativity and engaging reader interest

Importance of Dichotomy

Dichotomies heighten drama through polarized structures with absolute divisions between opposites. Key functions include:

  • Symbolizing the dual nature of entities or choices
  • Classifying things categorically as good/bad, right/wrong
  • Creating tension between binary forces like light/darkness


Juxtaposition contrasts two entities by placing them side-by-side, dichotomies strictly separate concepts into binary groups. Both the literary techniques allow writers to explore human complexities using contradictions – whether fusing differences creatively or heightening tensions categorically between opposites. Their masterful application allows commentary on life’s many paradoxes and underscoring that the divisions between our high ideals and base realities are often finer than we may wish.

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