Definition of Paradox in Literature| 5 Examples

‘Paradox’ is the figure of speech in which a statement or phrase seems to be self-contradictory or absurd which is nevertheless found to be true. Here the readers will find definition of paradox in literature and its 5 examples.

Origin of Paradox

Originated from the late Latin word and was first known used in mid 16th century. In literal sense, paradox means self-contradiction.

Definition of Paradox in Literature:

‘Paradox’ is the figure of speech in which a statement or phrase seems to be self-contradictory or absurd which is nevertheless found to be true. It is a rhetorical device used to get attention of the readers and to secure emphasis on some point. The paradoxical situations used to combine the contradictory elements in making sense.

Kinds of Paradox:

There are two kinds of paradox. ‘Particular or general’ and ‘general or structural’.

i. Particular or General:This is a simple type of paradox, in which the short and pithy phrases or statements that are approached by the epigrammatic writing is discussed.
ii. General or Structural: This type of paradox is complex than particular paradox. A structural paradox is primary to say a poem. The works of metaphysical poets like ‘Donne’ and ‘Marvell’ are to be discussed in it.

Purpose of Paradox in Literature:

• To point-out the conflict between the phrases or words
• Illuminates characteristics by contrasting it
• Use to conclude the themes and ideas in a work.

Examples of Paradox:

  1. Save money by spending.
  2. First shall be last and the last first.
  3. Failure is the key to success.
  4. A wise fool.
  5. Coward dies many time times before death.
  6. The martyr of solider gives new life to the people.
  7. A strange friend.
  8. A child is the father of man.
  9. Less you speak, more you get.
  10. The more you ashamed, the more respect you gain.

Examples of Paradox in Literature:

In literature, many writers have used paradoxical statements in their work. The use of this literary technique makes the writers enable to understand their readers about the doubt meaning of the phrase, opinion or text. Readers are also able to get the logical meaning of the illogical words, line or statement.

Use of Paradox in Macbeth:

In Act, Scene 1,

Fair is foul, and foul is fair.

Here the setting of the witches’ description has been made by ‘Shakespeare’. He allows the readers to observe that world is in conflict.By using paradoxical statement, he makes the people realize that the people looking outside are not actually from inside.

Act 1, Scene 3,

So foul and fair a day I have not seen

The first line of ‘Macbeth’ in the play in which he uses paradox. He refers to the battle field a ‘fair’ because he won the battle and ‘foul’ because he has lost his fellow soldiers.

Act 1, Scene 3,

This supernatural soliciting cannot be good, cannot be ill.

Here the soliloquy of Macbeth who is thinking about prophecy of witches. He has considered the ‘supernatural soliciting’ ‘not good’ because he was promised for success in battle and ‘not ill’because he was given suggestion of murdering the king ‘Duncan’. Here he has used paradoxical statement by considering the prophecy not evil, not good.

“Animal Form” by (George Orwell)

All animals are equal but some are more equal than others

Here the ‘Orwell’ depicts the situation of Russian people and criticized the Government because the policies that were made for the Russian people are not being followed. In first half line “all animals are equal’ he simply states that all people are equal and than he uses paradox “some are more equal than others’’, which means that some powerful people are enjoying the luxuries of life and they have no care of others, the poor Russian people.

Holly Sonnet by John Donne

Death be not proud, though some have called thee,
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so

‘John Donne’ uses paradoxical statement by comparing the death with a thing that is dreadful. He is addressing directly to death ‘death be not proud’ that it should not be arrogant ‘thou some have called thee’ from the fact that some people consider it tearful. Then said, “for thou art not so’ it is not the act which can be taken as fearful.

Hamlet by Shakespeare

“I must be cruel only to be kind”

Hamlet address to his mother after he killed Polonius, ‘I must be cruel’ means that Hamlet can be cruel to his mother because she has entered the King Claudius in her life and betrayed his dead father while ‘only to be kind’ means that although he (Hamlet) is punitive but his intentions are good.

An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

Placed’ on this isthmus of a middle state
A being darkly wise and rudely great
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between in doubt to act or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast,

In doubt his mind or body to prefer
Born but to die and reasoning but to err
Created half to rise and half to fall
Great lord of all thing’s yet a prey to all
Sole judge to truth in endless error hurled
The glory, jest and riddle of the world

In the above lines, Pope has combined the general statement about paradoxical nature and condition of man by using particular paradoxes.

Paradox V. Contradiction

‘Paradox’ is a statement which prima-facie seems contradictory but on close examination, it is found to be correct. For example, ‘The clock hanging on the wall is walking’.

Contradiction’ is a statement which shows the happening of something correct or false at the same time and in same sense. For example, ‘He is a brave soldier and a coward man’.

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