Definition of Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition is a literary technique in which two or more ideas, places, characters and their actions are placed side by side in a narrative or a poem for the purpose of developing comparisons and contrasts.
In literature, juxtaposition is a useful device for writers to portray their characters in great detail to create suspense and achieve a rhetorical effect. It is a human quality to comprehend one thing easily by comparing it to another. Therefore, a writer can make readers sense “goodness” in a particular character by placing him or her side by side to a character that is predominantly “evil”. Consequently, goodness in one character is highlighted by evil in the other character. Juxtaposition in this case is useful in the development of characters.
Examples of Juxtaposition in Literature
John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is one of the narrative poems that can be used as examples of juxtaposition. This well-crafted literary piece is clearly based on the juxtaposition of two characters: God and Satan. Frequently in the poem, the bad qualities of Satan and the good qualities of God are placed side by side and comparison hence made brings to the surface the contrast between the two characters. The juxtaposition in the poem helps us to reach a conclusion that Satan deserved his expulsion from the paradise because of his unwillingness to submit to God’s will.
Charles Dickens uses the technique of juxtaposition in the opening line of his novel “A Tales of Two Cities”:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
In order to give us an idea of the factors responsible for the French Revolution, Dickens uses Juxtaposition throughout the novel in which the have not’s and the haves are put side by side to highlight the presence of severe disparity and discord in the then French society that paved the way for the revolution. By examining the given juxtaposition, readers can vividly imagine the calamitous atmosphere before the revolution and understand its need at that time.
We can see juxtaposition examples in poems, too. In Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night”:
“Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
The speaker is requesting his father not to give up before like ordinary dying men but to put a fight against it to survive. The juxtaposition is in action of struggle for life to put off death against the action of merely lying down waiting for death.
Juxtaposition is a literary device that William Shakespeare uses most commonly in his play “Romeo and Juliet”. We notice the juxtaposition of “light and “darkness” repeatedly. Consider an example from Act I, Scene V:
“O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;”
Here, the radiant face of Juliet is juxtaposed with a black African’s dark skin. Romeo admires Juliet by saying that her face seems brighter than brightly lit torches in the hall. He says that at night her face glows like a bright jewel that shines against the dark skin of an African.
Function of Juxtaposition
Writers employ the literary technique of juxtaposition in order to surprise their readers and evoke their interest by means of developing a comparison between two dissimilar things by placing them side by side. The comparison drawn adds vividness to a given image, controls pacing of poem or a narrative and provides a logical connection between two various vague concepts.