Juxtaposition: Definition, Useful Examples in Speech & Literature

You have probably heard the term juxtaposition being used when referring to spoken and written language, but what does this mean? In this article, we are going to explore the meaning of juxtaposition as well as taking a look at some examples of how it can be used in both a written and spoken context.

What Is Juxtaposition?

When used as a literary device, juxtaposition is when the writer places two things close to one another in order to make a comparison or contrast between the two. In most cases, the comparison is one which is unexpected, unusual or quite often-false. These things could be ideas, characters, items, places or any other element which could be compared.

When used in spoken language, juxtaposition may refer to the omission of conjunctions in a grammatical sense. An example of this might be the term ‘mother and father’ being shortened to simply ‘mother father.’ The listener is then forced to compare the two and treat them as one rather than seeing them as two separate entities which do not need to be contrasted or compared.

There are many proverbs which feature the use of juxtaposition and in this sense, it is used in order to compare two ideas or concepts. This is often done by way of figurative language. We will look at this in more detail when viewing some examples of spoken juxtaposition.

Juxtaposition Examples

Examples Of Juxtaposition In Speech

There are plenty of examples of when you might see an example of juxtaposition during spoken conversation, particularly as we mentioned, when it is used as a grammatical element. We are now going to look at some examples of what you can expect to hear.

  • What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” This is a proverb which uses juxtaposition to suggest that something that is good for one person is going to be good for everyone.
  • It is better late than never.” This proverb is one which employs the use of juxtaposition in order to convey the concept that something never happening is worse that it happening late. This makes a comparison between late and never.
  • Beggars cannot be choosers.” Juxtaposition is used in this saying to show that the two opposing ideas (beggars are completely different to choosers) cannot be linked. If you are having to beg, then you cannot choose.
  • You cannot show an old dog, new tricks.” In this saying, juxtaposition is used to compare old and new in a way which refers to not being able to instil new ideas in a person whose mind is set in its ways.
  • In a speech by JFK we see a very good example of juxtaposition when he says the words “never let us make a decision out of fear but never let us fear to make a decision.” In this example, juxtaposition is being used as a rhetorical device which is something that was favoured by Kennedy.

Examples Of Juxtaposition In Literature

Juxtaposition is frequently used by writers in a variety of written pieces and it is something that you can easily spot when you know what you are looking for. By using juxtaposition, the reader is then coerced into making a comparison between two things which may or may not have a genuine relation. We are now going to explore some examples of times in which writers have employed the used of this technique.

  • In the play, Othello written by William Shakespeare, we see juxtaposition being used frequently to make a contrast between the dark skin of Othello and the very fair skin of his lover. A fine example of this is seen in the line “Even now, the old black ram is tupping the white ewe.”
  • We can see some very good examples of juxtaposition being used in Charles Dickens’ novel, A tale of two cities. An example of this can be seen when we read the following passage; “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
  • In Anna Karenina written by Leo Tolstoy, we see a very good example of juxtaposition in the opening line in which he compares happiness and unhappiness in families. The line reads as follows; “Happy families are alike, unhappy families are all unhappy in their own ways.”
  • In the poem “The road not taken” written by Robert Frost, we can see a literal juxtaposition when he talks about two roads, or paths. This can then be seen as a figurative juxtaposition which encourages us to compare having to make a choice between two things.

Other Examples Of Juxtaposition

You are likely to see juxtaposition in other situations. Let’s take a look at some examples of this now.

  • If you were reading a magazine and saw a photo of Hitler placed next to a new politician which you knew nothing about, by the simple placement of the images, you might make the comparison that the two share the same ideas. Despite the images being side by side, this is misleading juxtaposition as this doesn’t mean the two people share ideas.
  • Juxtaposition is often used in film in the form of a montage, in which the film maker might place opposing ideas one after the other in a montage to encourage the viewer to compare the two.
  • It may also be used in the form of oxymorons, for example in the sentence “he is slouching gracefully.” The phrase causes us to make a contrast between the two words which contradict one another, making for an interesting juxtaposition.

Conclusion

Juxtaposition is a technique used in writing which forces the reader to make a comparison between two things such as places, people or items. This creates a link between the two but this doesn’t always mean that it is a genuine link.

Juxtaposition can also be used as a grammatical technique in which a conjunction is removed in order to make a more direct link between two things.

There have been many times in which juxtaposition has been used and by examining these we have been able to gain a greater understanding of its use.

Juxtaposition Infographic

Juxtaposition

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