Epiphany Definition                         

The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning “shining forth”. The word has been used since early Christianity, but did not appear in English until 1751. It is also used as a name for Christian feast days on 6 January and 19 May.

Examples of Epiphany in Literature:

The epiphany is an ancient literary device that appears in many works of art and literature. It is a moment of sudden revelation, when the protagonist realizes that his or her destiny is to pursue a particular goal.

  • In George Orwell’s novel 1984, Winston Smith finally realizes that O’Brien is actually his enemy and not his friend as he had thought for so long. This revelation changes his relationship with O’Brien and leads him to betray Julia and work for Big Brother once more.
  • In Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton makes a sacrifice by giving up his life so that Darnay can live with Lucie Manette. Carton’s last words to Lucie are: “It has been my fate rather to seek than to be sought…I have loved none but you.”
  • Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. In this play, Leontes’ wife Hermione has been accused of adultery by Leontes himself. She is sentenced to death, but before she dies she gives birth to a daughter and names her Perdita (meaning lost). When Perdita grows up she meets the prince Florizel, who falls in love with her and they marry. At this point Leontes realizes that he has wronged his wife and daughter, causing him great distress. He meets them again during a festival held in celebration of Perdita’s marriage, and at this point Perdita reveals herself as Hermione’s long-lost daughter by saying “I am your own dear princess”. As Leontes looks on in amazement at this revelation, he exclaims: “O thou day o’ th’ world! I like thee not!”
  • Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy is an example of an epiphany because he realizes that death is inevitable but he can choose whether or not he lives his life fully. He can either end his life with suicide or continue on with his life despite knowing that death awaits him at some point in time.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. In this play, Algernon becomes engaged to Gwendolyn for a bet but ends up falling in love with Cecily instead. Meanwhile, Jack’s friend Algernon tells him that he has fallen in love with Cecily too because she looks exactly like Gwendolyn. After realizing this, Jack realizes that he also loves Cecily.
  • The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. In the play, a group of characters have a series of epiphanies. The first occurs when Leontes, the King of Sicilia, believes that his wife Hermione has been unfaithful to him with Polixenes, the King of Bohemia. His jealousy causes him to order the death of his wife and their son Mamillius. However, while they are dead he discovers they were innocent and orders their bodies brought back to life. In Act 4 Scene 3 Leontes has an epiphany when he realises how much his jealousy has ruined his life. He says: “This is my comfort: those lives were not; Those things did not happen.” (Shakespeare)
  • John Milton’s poem “Il Penseroso”. In this poem, the speaker describes his state of mind as he sits alone by himself and thinks about various matters. He then suddenly realizes that he has more than just his own thoughts to rely upon; he has God and angels to guide him through life as well and this realization leads him to reflect upon mortality and eternity in a much more positive light than before.
  • Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia sees Lysander in love with Helena. This realization leads her to accept his proposal of marriage.
  • Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. In this play, Frederic Henry realizes that he has been fortunate in life and must do everything possible to make sure those who have not had such luck don’t suffer needlessly.

More to read:

AlliterationClimaxInterjection100 Examples of Simile
AllusionCacophonyImagerySatire
AllegoryComedyIronySoliloquy
AnalogyColloquialism

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