An apostrophe definition in literature is a figure of speech in which a speaker addresses an imaginary or absent person or entity.
Apostrophe Definition in Literature
Apostrophe as a figure of speech refers to the act of directly addressing a person, thing, or abstract concept that is not present or is unable to respond. It involves address to an absent or imaginary person as if it were present and capable of understanding or responding to the speaker.
In apostrophes, the speaker often uses the second person pronouns “you” or “thou” to address the subject directly. This figure of speech allows the speaker to express emotions, thoughts, or ideas. By giving them a voice or personifying them through direct address.
Purpose of Apostrophe
- It allows the speaker to express strong emotions, such as love, anger, grief, or longing, by directly addressing the subject of their emotions.
- Apostrophe can create rhetorical impact, emphasizing a point or creating a vivid and dramatic effect in the reader’s mind.
- By addressing an absent or imaginary entity, apostrophe can symbolically represent larger concepts, ideas, or values, giving them a tangible presence in the text.
- It creates a sense of intimacy, as if the speaker is engaged in a personal conversation with the addressed entity, drawing the reader into the speaker’s world.
Origin of apostrophe
The origin of the apostrophe as a literary device traces back to ancient Greece. The term “apostrophe” comes from the Greek word “apostrophē,” which means “turning away.” In ancient Greek poetry, the apostrophe was used as a rhetorical device to address a person, an object, or an abstract idea that was not physically present or alive.
Greek poets, such as Homer in his epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, frequently employed apostrophe to give voice to characters addressing gods, muses, or other divine entities. For example, in the opening lines of the Iliad, Homer invokes the Muse with an apostrophe:
“Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.”
The use of apostrophe continued throughout the history of literature. Thus becoming a common literary technique employed by writers across different cultures and time periods. It found prominence in works of poetry, plays, and even novels.
Over time, the use of apostrophe expanded beyond addressing gods or divine beings to include addressing absent or imaginary persons, objects, or abstract concepts. It allows writers to give voice to their thoughts, feelings, or ideas and create a sense of presence or direct engagement with the addressed entity.
Today, apostrophe remains a powerful and widely used literary device, offering authors a way to evoke emotions, add depth to their writing, and create a direct connection between the speaker and the addressed entity, whether real or imaginary.
Apostrophe figure of speech Examples in literature
- William Shakespeare: “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” – Romeo and Juliet
- John Milton: “Methought I saw my late espoused saint” – Paradise Lost
- Emily Dickinson: “Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me”. Because I Could Not Stop for Death
- Percy Bysshe Shelley: “O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” – Ode to the West Wind
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “O sleep! it is a gentle thing” – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
- William Wordsworth: “Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour” – London, 1802
- John Keats: “Ode to a Nightingale” – “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!”
- Walt Whitman: “O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done” – O Captain! My Captain!
- T.S. Eliot: “O Oysters, come and walk with us!” – The Walrus and the Carpenter (in “The Waste Land”)
- Langston Hughes: “O, let America be America again” – Let America Be America Again
Overall, apostrophe, a figure of speech serves as a powerful tool for writers to add emotional depth. It creates vivid imagery, and establishes a connection between the speaker and the subject being addressed. Thus, enhancing the overall impact of the written work.