Juxtaposition as a Literary Device
Juxtaposition is a literary device that involves placing two or more elements side by side to compare, contrast or emphasize their differences or similarities. This technique can be used to create meaning, evoke emotions, or highlight certain qualities of the elements being compared. It is a powerful tool that allows writers to communicate complex ideas in a simple and direct manner.
The word “juxtaposition” comes from the Latin word “juxtaponere” which means “to place side by side.” In literature, this technique is used to compare characters, events, ideas, or settings in a way that highlights the contrast between them.
Use in literature
Uses of Juxtaposition in English Literature
To Create Contrast: Juxtaposition can be used to create contrast between two elements to emphasize the differences between them. For example, in William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” the juxtaposition of the savage and brutal behavior of the boys on the island with their civilized behavior at the beginning of the novel creates a stark contrast that emphasizes the loss of innocence and humanity. Some famous lines are;
“The silence was like a trap.”
“The air was heavy with the smell of death, but the sun was shining brightly.”
“The boys shouted in triumph, but their faces were full of fear.”
“The chaos was beautiful, but also dangerous.”
“The sound of laughter mixed with the cries of the wounded.”
“The setting sun painted the sky with gold, but cast deep shadows on the island.”
To show irony
To Show Irony: Juxtaposition can show irony by placing two elements side by side that contradict each other. For example, in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” the juxtaposition of the animals’ slogan, “All animals are equal” with their unequal treatment by the pigs highlights the irony of the situation.
To Emphasize Character Development: It shows how a character has changed or developed over time. For example, in Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities,”. The juxtaposition of Charles Darnay’s behavior at the beginning of the novel. When he is a wealthy and self-centered aristocrat, his behavior is at the end of the novel. When he is a selfless and compassionate person, which emphasizes his character development. A famous example of juxtaposition is “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
To Create Tension: This literary device creates tension by placing two elements side by side. That is incompatible or in conflict with each other. For example, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the juxtaposition of Gatsby’s idealized vision of his relationship with Daisy with the reality of their relationship creates tension and underscores the tragedy of Gatsby’s situation.
Juxtaposition in Drama
- William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”: The juxtaposition of the intense passion and love between Romeo and Juliet with their families’ bitter feud highlights the tragedy of their situation.
- “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry: The play juxtaposes the dreams and aspirations of the Younger family against the harsh realities of racism and poverty in 1950s Chicago.
- “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller: The play juxtaposes the failing dreams and illusions of Willy Loman against the success and stability of his successful older brother, Ben.
- “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams: The play juxtaposes the fragile and fantastical world of Amanda and her children against the gritty and oppressive reality of their lives in St. Louis during the Great Depression.
- “Angels in America” by Tony Kushner: The play juxtaposes the struggles of a group of individuals, including a gay couple, a closeted Mormon lawyer, and a black nurse, against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic and Reagan-era politics.
- “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams: The play juxtaposes the fading Southern belle, Blanche DuBois, against the brash and brutish Stanley Kowalski. Creating a dramatic contrast of old and new, refined and rough, delicate and powerful.
Juxtaposition in Poetry
- Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”: The juxtaposition of the narrator’s fear and terror. But the raven’s calm and controlled demeanor creates a contrast that highlights the narrator’s vulnerability.
- Here is another example of juxtaposition in poetry: “I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden daffodils.” In “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth In this example, the poet uses the contrast between his loneliness and the sight of a “host of golden daffodils” to create a sense of beauty and wonder in the midst of solitude. The juxtaposition of the lonely wanderer and the vibrant field of flowers highlights the impact that nature can have on our emotions and moods.
Examples of Juxtaposition in Novel
- John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”: The juxtaposition of George and Lennie’s hopes. And dreams for a better future with the harsh realities of their lives. As itinerant workers create a contrast that underscores the tragedy of their situation.
- Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”: The juxtaposition of Elizabeth Bennet’s independence and wit with Mr. Darcy’s arrogance and aloofness. It creates a contrast that highlights the differences between the two characters and underscores the development of their relationship.
It is a versatile and powerful literary device used by famous authors in literature to strengthen their writing.