Examples of Paradoxes

‘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 and examples of paradoxes in literature.

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 self-contradictory or absurd, nevertheless found to be true. It is a rhetorical device used to get the readers’ attention and secure emphasis on some points. The paradoxical situations are used to combine the contradictory elements to make 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 phrases or statements that are approached by the epigrammatic writing are discussed.

ii. General or Structural: This type of paradox is more complex than a particular paradox. A structural paradox is primary, to say a poem. The work of metaphysical poets like ‘Donne’ and ‘Marvell’ is discussed in i

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 Paradoxes:

  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. This literary technique enables the writers to understand their readers about the doubted meaning of the phrase, opinion, or text. Readers can also get the logical meaning of illogical words, lines, or statements.

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 the world is in conflict. By using a paradoxical statement, he makes the people realize that the people looking outside are not actually from the inside.

Act 1, Scene 3,

So foul and fair a day I have not seen

In the first line of ‘Macbeth’s play, he uses paradox. He refers to the battlefield as ‘fair.’ He won the battle and ‘foul’ because he had lost his fellow soldiers.

Act 1, Scene 3,

This supernatural soliciting cannot be good, cannot be ill.

Here is the soliloquy of Macbeth, who is thinking about witches’ prophecy. He has considered the ‘supernatural soliciting’ ‘not good because he was promised success in battle and ‘not ill because he was suggested to murder the king ‘Duncan.’ Here he has used a 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

‘Orwell’ depicted the situation of the Russian people and criticized the Government because the policies made for the Russian people were not being followed. In the first half line, “all animals are equal’ he states that all people are equal. Then he uses the paradox “some are more equal than others’’, which means that some powerful people are enjoying the luxuries of life. They have no care for 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 a paradoxical statement by comparing death with a dreadful thing. 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 addresses his mother after he killed Polonius, ‘I must be cruel’ which means that Hamlet can be cruel to his mother because she has entered King Claudius in her life and betrayed his dead father. In contrast, ‘only to be kind’ means that although he (Hamlet) is punitive, 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 man’s paradoxical nature and condition by using particular paradoxes.

Paradox V. Contradiction

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

Contradiction’ is a statement that shows something correct or false happening simultaneously and in the same sense. For example, ‘He is a brave soldier and a coward.’

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