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Understanding Juxtaposition (Definition, Examples, How to Write)

Day and night. Good and evil. Belief and disbelief. War and peace. Happiness and sadness. All of these are nothing but everyday examples of contrast. Contradictions. Divergences.

When placed together, in a sentence, they make way for a powerful literary technique called juxtapositionthe art of comparing and contrasting two or more elements in a story to highlight their similarities and in turn their differences.

Writers use this technique to create a rhetorical effect, i.e., to evoke an emotional response in the audience and to make an argument more compelling than it otherwise could be. It helps them bring out the uniqueness of a character in a more subtle, yet refined, way. It allows readers to understand the concepts, characters, and qualities like never before!      

In this article, we’ll discuss everything about juxtaposition – what it is, what is its definition and meaning, and how it is used in literature, art, poems, movies, and speeches to draw a comparison between two ideas.


What is Juxtaposition?


As mentioned above, Juxtaposition is a literary technique that places two or more distinctly dissimilar objects next to each other to compare, contrast, or create an interesting effect.


In simple words, juxtaposition means placing two contrasting elements next to each other so as to highlight their strengths, weaknesses, similarities, and differences.

Let’s understand it with this example. We all have read Cinderella – a story of an innocent, kind-hearted girl who’s left at the mercy of her wicked stepmother and equally cruel stepsisters until she finds her handsome prince.

In this story, we know Cinderella for her good values and virtues. But her ‘positive’ character becomes clearer to the readers due to her wicked stepsisters who are in sharp contrast to her. This is juxtaposition!


Synonyms or other words for juxtaposition include:



The antonyms (opposite words) of juxtaposition include:


When is Juxtaposition used?

Juxtaposition is used when we want to highlight similarities or contrast between two objects or elements. It helps in understanding a relationship between two elements more closely and helps writers:

  • Chalk out a character in a more refined way by comparing their traits with a contrasting character.
  • Draw a link between two unrelated objects, ideas, or images.
  • Explore and exploit the nuances of a character.
  • Draw a reader’s attention to seemingly common traits, which otherwise might just get missed.
  • Show a character in a three-dimensional space, i.e., highlight both his good and the bad side.
  • Add humor or absurdness to the content.
  • Explain how one idea or element is better than another.

Examples of juxtaposition in everyday life

Contrast and comparison are all around us. We see it every day and in almost everything. It can be intentional or unintentional. For example:

  • Old versus New: Have you seen a new construction coming up right next to a crumbling structure? In Rome, we have both the ancient Colosseum and graffiti-ridden buildings. While one is old, others are relatively new and both the structures stand in total contrast to each other. They are a classic example of juxtaposition.

Other examples could be an old man walking with a new stick, an old cup placed on a new tray, a young lady driving a vintage car, and so on and so forth. Just look around, you’ll find thousands of examples floating in front of your eyes.

  • Shapes and Sizes: Our world is full of different shapes and sizes, and many times, they stand in total contrast to each other. For instance, a car. It has a rectangular body and round tire – both of which co-exist on the same vehicle but are in contrast to each other. Similarly, the bat and ball, too, are in sharp contrast to each other. While the bat is long and slender, the ball is curvy and stout.
  • Single versus Happily/ unhappily married: Have you ever seen a happily married couple walking hand in hand? Just behind them, you might have noticed a bachelor passing by or a couple walking with sore looks on their face. Aren’t they in sharp contrast to each other?
  • Dark versus Light: There are thousands of examples that show the juxtaposition of colors. Sunrise on a cloudy morning, day and night, light and darkness, and man and his shadow – all of them beautifully illustrate juxtaposition in life.
  • Other Interesting arrangements: A rainbow showing myriad hues of colors, a budding flower against an aging leaf, trees standing tall against bushes and shrubs, and a bright moon shining in a pitch-dark night are all nature’s way of defining juxtaposition.

Examples from literature

Below are some famous examples of juxtaposition that exist in Literature:

  • “Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.” Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
  • “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • “The green spoon worm has one of the most extreme size differences known to exist between male and female, the male being 200,000 times smaller than his mate. Her lifespan is a couple of years. His is only a couple of months.” Seed Magazine
  • “That is hot ice, and wondrous strange snow!” A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare

In all the above examples the authors are trying to draw a sharp contrast between two different concepts: reality versus artificial intelligence, happy families versus sad families, best time versus worst time, and so on. These contrasting concepts demonstrate the highs and the lows of life and make you stop and think for a while. And this is the main goal of juxtaposition!

Understanding Juxtaposition as a Literary Device

Literacy devices are techniques used by the writer to create an intended perception of the subject or element in the literature.

Juxtaposition is used as one of the literary techniques. Here, two concepts, ideas, characters, or places are placed near or next to each other to help the reader compare and contrast them. But as a literacy device, juxtaposition is not only about comparing two different objects or elements. Juxtaposition should have some meaning and a sense of understanding, which makes the entire literary work significant for the reader.

Let’s understand Juxtaposition in literacy through these common and famous proverbs:

Better late than neverGetting late for something is never a good idea. But the possibility of something not happening or someone never arriving is even worse. So by putting things into perspective, the proverb explains that you must always try to make things happen.
All’s fair in love and warThough love and war are opposites, this juxtaposition says that whatever path you choose, it is fair in both love and war. It shows that two words can be more similar than you think.
Beggars can’t be choosersBegging and choosing are two sides of the coin. This juxtaposition implies that you cannot beg and demand desired results at the same time. You must accept what’s coming your way. 
What’s good for the goose is good for the ganderHere the female goose is being compared to the male gander. This proverb says that what’s good for one, is good for the other. In a general sense, this proverb says that ‘what’s good for one, is good for all’.
When the cat’s away the mice will play.Rats are the natural prey of cats. This proverb says that when an authority figure (cat) is not watching over them, people (mice) will do what they want.
I am too old a dog to learn new tricksHere the contrast is between old and new. This proverb means that when someone’s too used to doing things (or thinking) in a certain way, it’s difficult to change their perspective.
When it rains, it pours.In this proverb, there is a contrast of magnitude. While the meaning of the proverb is when it rains, there’s a downpour. The actual meaning is that when one thing goes right everything goes right and vice versa.

Let’s see some examples of juxtaposition from famous novels and stories:

Life of PiHuman and animal instinct
The Prince and the PauperWealth and poverty
Cinderellakindness and selfishness
Harry Potter SeriesMuggle and wizard worlds
Moby dickLand and sea
The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnFrontier and civilization
To Kill a MockingbirdFreedom and confinement

How to Create a Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition offers us the easiest way to connect elements, create a story, and make it compelling and worth remembering. Here’s how you can create juxtaposition in your story, article, painting, or any other body of work:

  • Identify the main character, element, or object in your story.
  • Now think of alternatives that are in sharp contrast to it and can help you highlight your character in the best possible way.
  • Think of their implications and how they can best highlight your story’s character/ object.
  • Choose the one that best supports your idea.

You can use the following concepts to create juxtaposition between different elements:

Big versus Small
High Versus Low
Happy versus Sad
Fat versus Skinny
Near Versus Far
Light versus Dark
Male versus Female
Human versus Object
Right versus Left
Natural versus Man-made
Many versus Few
Reality versus Photography
Present versus Past
Healthy versus Harmful

You can draw some understanding from the following examples:


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, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”

The entire poem is a juxtaposition of contrasting characters and elements. The poem highlights how life is a mixture of highs and lows and how while some enjoy everything, others are left in despair.

2. Paradise Lost by John Milton

“Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.”

This is an excerpt from John Milton’s Famous poem Paradise Lost. In this poem, the poet compares God and Satan and describes how Satan is driven by arrogance when he proclaims the aforementioned lines. 

3. The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.”

Here, the poet juxtaposes the month of April with Winter. He describes how April due to its pleasant weather revives life, while winters keep us cold and lifeless.

Other poems that are great examples of juxtaposition include:

  • Joining the Colours by Katharine Tynan
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
  • Some Days by Billy Collins
  • Good Night by Dylan Thomas


Artists often use the juxtaposition to accentuate concepts and imagination. Juxtaposition in art is found almost everywhere. However, some notable artists who have extensively used juxtaposition in their assemblage of work include:

Meret Oppenheim (1913–1985)Luncheon in Fur
René Magritte (1898–1967)Memory of The Voyage
M.C. Escher (1898–1972)Still Life with Spherical Mirror

TV Shows

TV shows are full of contrasting characters. Some examples include:

TV ShowCharacters
Star TrekCaptain Kirk (emotional) and Spock (logical)
Battlestar GalacticaHumans and Cylons
Modern FamilyTraditional And Modern Masculinities 
The Haunting of Hill HouseMental illness and monsters/ghosts


In movies too, makers use of juxtaposition to highlight their characters. For example:

Lion KingMustafa (good) and Scar (bad)
The Dark KnightBatman and the Joker
Pretty WomanVivian and Edward
The Lord of the RingsThe magical, natural world and the age of man


Juxtaposition has also been vividly used in speeches by some of the famous orators and personalities of the world. Some examples of juxtaposition in speech include:

  • “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”  
  • US President John F. Kennedy
  • “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”
  • US President Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address
  • “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
  • Neil Armstrong


Some of our world monuments are also classic examples of juxtaposition. The examples include but are not limited to:

Taj MahalJuxtaposition of shape
30 St Mary AxeJuxtaposition of setting
The Basque Health Department HeadquartersJuxtaposition of exterior and interior

How to Pronounce Juxtaposition?

The word “juxtaposition” is pronounced as jux·​ta·​po·​si·​tion. It is formed by blending a Latin word, “juxta,” meaning “next,” with a French word “position.”

Common Questions

What is juxtaposition in photography?

Juxtaposition in photography involves placing two or more contrasting elements in a picture together so as to create an eye-catching, visually-appealing image. The contrast can be in relation to shape, size, color, or any other element that helps spark emotions and narrate a visual story or emphasize similarities or differences between the objects or people.

What is juxtaposition in art?

In art, the juxtaposition of different elements is used to depict contrast and elicit a response in the audience’s mind. Artists often place objects of different shapes, sizes, and colors beside each other to create a particular effect and highlight the differences and uniqueness of different objects. Writers, similarly, bring characters of different shades together to make the reader stop, think, and reconsider the meaning of the text, and life at large.    

What is juxtaposition in drawing?

Artists use juxtaposition to display different emotions. For example,

  • a contrast between light and dark is used to add depth to a drawing
  • different hues of colors are used to create a stunning effect
  • Objects of different shapes, sizes, and textures are drawn next to each other to create visual juxtaposition.   

What is juxtaposition rhetorical?

Juxtaposition is also a rhetorical device. It places different objects or elements next to each other just for comparative purposes – to highlight the contrast between them. It helps to bring out their innate differences and reveal some surprising similarities too. This is called the rhetorical effect.

Writers use various divergent elements together to help readers compare, contrast, and understand the characters well. Some commonly used juxtapose elements to create rhetorical effect include:

Beauty and ugliness
Dark and light
Wealth and poverty
Life and death
Good and evil
Justice and revenge
Vice and virtue
War and peace
Happiness and sadness


What is juxtaposition?

Juxtaposition refers to a stark contrast between two people or things. The literary device is used to create contrast. Typically between two characters or linking elements.

What is a good example of juxtaposition?

Mother/father relationship is a great example of juxtaposition. In many ways, they are connected, although different.


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About the author

Dalia Y.: Dalia is an English Major and linguistics expert with an additional degree in Psychology. Dalia has featured articles on Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, Grammarly, and many more. She covers English, ESL, and all things grammar on GrammarBrain.

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