10 Examples of Maxim in Literature

Definition of Maxim

A maxim is a brief statement which reflects a truth or a principle that can be applied when dealing with the people. It is generally a kind of an aphorism or proverb, which people use to capture the important information and a piece of advice in a particular and short statement.

Maxims are easy to remember. They contain a universal appeal, therefore, considered the effective tools for conveying moral lessons and practical advice. In literature, maxims are employed as devices to arouse the important themes, and provide readers with thought provoking ideas.

Importance of Maxim

Maxims are one of the primary elements in the novels because of the distinct features that allow to convey large portions of texts and substantial moral messages in a brief manner. They serve several functions:

  1. Moral and Ethical Guidance: The maxims, at the same time, may include an ethical premise or the lesson that can direct the reader’s thinking process and actions..
  2. Universal Truths: They portray universal truths that are familiar with every society and age hence easily identifiable by all.
  3. Brevity and Clarity: Because of their shortness, maxims can readily be memorized and thus recited, which facilitates the passing down of the wisdom.
  4. Literary Emphasis: Maxims are employed as devices for stress of the major motifs in the work and as the commentator contending with the reader about the world and life.
  5. Reflective and Thought-Provoking: Maxims engage readers into their own lifeworld and thereby reside deeper in the readers’ interpretative process.

Examples of Maxim from Literature

1. “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

“To thine own self be true.”

This piece of advice is attributed to Polonius while counselling his son, Laertes. It emphasizes the importance of staying true to the values of others.

It also suggests that honesty with oneself leads to the honesty with the other persons. It strongly drives home the issue of integrity and the necessity of not corrupting the soul.

This is a piece of advice that will never grow old and underscores Shakespeare’s capability of summarizing human conduct in simple profound words.

2. “Poor Richard’s Almanack” by Benjamin Franklin

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

The writer gives this maxim to encourage the people the virtues of hardworking and disciplined.

Simply because a person gets up early and follows a healthy lifestyle means he or she will be a success and happy.

This has become a well-known piece of folk wisdom, quite comprehensive and to the point, that indeed expresses one of the most important values of Franklin’s ethics of temperance and ingenuity.

3. “An Essay on Man” by Alexander Pope

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Pope expresses a fundamental aspect of human nature that refers to the concept of hope.

This maxim intensifies the belief that regardless of the situation that is prevailing at a given period of time, people always have hope.

It reflects the optimistic and non-defeated attitudes that are inherent to Pope’s philosophical poem.

4. “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.”

The ironic statement that sets up the theme of the book regarding marriage, social class, and mutual connections.

This statement is a negative comment on the fact that society assumes billionaires are in search of wives, a ridiculous assumption, actually.

Irony works effectively for Austen because she employs such a motto to focus on the major concerns of the novel and give social reference to the reader.

5. “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

In the following statement we can observe the philosopher’s didactic opinion that miserable and hard life is conducive to the making of a better person.

Since then, it has turned into one of the most popular quotes meaning that the troubles and hard times make a person better.

6. “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

The Spanish maxim which refers to the concept that to adjudge the true value of something is possible when it put to the rest.

Cervantes employs this maxim to ensure that the audience understand that, as this matter concerns, theory alone is not enough but rather practice should accompany appearance.

The latter has now become a proverb which underscores the realistic means of assessing value.

7. “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

This maxim gives an account of existence of the play since it poses the human struggle as cyclical and constantly pushing forward despite the set-backs.

Thus, this simple and profound message of the play of Samuel Beckett could be further explained as containing numerous references to the philosophical attitude towards life and focusing on the problem of perseverance.

See also: Metaphysical Poetry Examples

8. “The Picture of Dorian GrayOscar Wilde

“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”

This statement is an example of anti-heroes’ mindset, as he is a symbol of hedonistic rejection of the conventional ethical code.

This provocative maxim, quoted directly from the dénouement of Act III of Balthazar’s play, Prospero’s Pictures of paradise, is employed by Wilde to portray further the fundamental motifs of the play, those being desire, self-destruction, as well as the repercussions of hedonism.

9. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Ironically, Orwell uses this maxim in ‘Animal Farm’ to denounce the news media under totalitarian regimes as liars and manipulators.

The statement unveils the hypocrisy of revolution, which also corresponds with the focus on the lack of equality and the purposeful distortion of meaning and language by the authorities.

Hence, the statement voiced by George Orwell can be regarded as a strong message regarding the nature of power and the threat of totalitarianism.

See also: Examples of Monologue in Literature

10. “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Emerson promotes the cult of ‘The individual’ as a means of getting true self-confidence.

This statement is in harmony with transcendentalist ideals saying about the goodness and dignity of every person.

This maxim of Emerson calls into the spirit of self-reliance and encourages readers to rely on their feelings and delve deeper into themselves.

Literary Terms Related to Maxim

1. Aphorism

An aphorism is a brief statement usually in the form of a maxim that points out a truth or maxim. An aphorism is generally said to be a wit or profound saying in the form of a maxim, maxim being a brief statement of truth. They are applied in passing on philosophical, moral or practical proverbs to the people in a fun way.

2. Proverb

A proverb is a brief, standard formula of speech which has been handed down from one generation to another. Proverbs are usually used with generations and carry cultural prism, so they belong to culture in question.

3. Epigram


Epigram is a brief form of writing characterized by wit, paradox and can be a phrase or line or a short poem. Epigrams are very close to the maxims and aphorisms, but they are often sharper and contain humor in the statement.

4. Adage

An adage is a proverb or saying that relates a real life situation of a particular culture or society. Proverbs and adages are quite similar and are usually more authoritative due to the fact that they are ageless sayings.

What is maxim in literature? 10 Examples from literature
Examples of Maxim from literature

Maxims are great figures of speech that give out a summary or rather a general outlook on realities, principles, or how to conduct oneself in a society. This is due to the fact that books allow for morality and ethical teachings, representation of general principles, as well as to provoke one’s reflection and encourage thinking.

Thus, such authors as Shakespeare, Franklin, Pope, Austen, Nietzsche, Cervantes, Beckett, Wilde, Orwell, and Emerson use maxims as means for presenting the audience with wisdom and promoting understanding of the key literary themes.

Thus, maxims are indispensable part of the literature as they help to provide access to the eternal wisdom and enhance the grasp of the works. This explains why they remain appealing and significant even today and are read by people from all over the world and of different ages.

See also: Literary Devices That Start With M

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