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 juxtaposition – the 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
- 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 never||Getting 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 war||Though 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 choosers||Begging 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 gander||Here 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 tricks||Here 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 Pi||Human and animal instinct|
|The Prince and the Pauper||Wealth and poverty|
|Cinderella||kindness and selfishness|
|Harry Potter Series||Muggle and wizard worlds|
|Moby dick||Land and sea|
|The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn||Frontier and civilization|
|To Kill a Mockingbird||Freedom 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 are full of contrasting characters. Some examples include:
|Star Trek||Captain Kirk (emotional) and Spock (logical)|
|Battlestar Galactica||Humans and Cylons|
|Modern Family||Traditional And Modern Masculinities|
|The Haunting of Hill House||Mental illness and monsters/ghosts|
In movies too, makers use of juxtaposition to highlight their characters. For example:
|Lion King||Mustafa (good) and Scar (bad)|
|The Dark Knight||Batman and the Joker|
|Pretty Woman||Vivian and Edward|
|The Lord of the Rings||The 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 Mahal||Juxtaposition of shape|
|30 St Mary Axe||Juxtaposition of setting|
|The Basque Health Department Headquarters||Juxtaposition 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.”
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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- What is Juxtaposition? Definition and Examples of Juxtaposed Language
- What Is Juxtaposition in Art?
- When & How to Write a Juxtaposition
- Writing 101: What Is Juxtaposition? Learn About Juxtaposition in Writing With Examples
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