Definition of Paradox
The term Paradox is from the Greek “paradoxon” that means contrary to expectations, existing belief or perceived opinion. Actually, paradox is a statement that appears to be self-contradictory or silly but may include a latent truth. It is also used to illustrate an opinion or statement contrary to accepted traditional ideas. A paradox is often used to make a reader think over an idea in innovative way.
Examples of Paradox
- Your enemy’s friend is your enemy.
- I am nobody.
- “What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young.” – George Bernard Shaw
- Wise fool
- Truth is honey which is bitter.
- “I can resist anything but temptation.” Oscar Wilde
Examples of Paradox in Literature
From the above examples, we can say that normally paradox creates a humorous effect on the readers because of its ridiculousness. However, in literature, paradox is not just a clever or comical statement or use of words. Paradox has serious implication, because it makes such statements that often summarize the major themes of the work they are used in. Let us analyze some examples of paradox from some famous literary works:
1. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, one part of the cardinal rule is the statement,
“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
Apparently, this statement does not make any sense. However, on closer examination, it gets clear that Orwell points out a political truth. The government in the novel claims that everyone is equal when it never treats everyone equally. It is the concept of equality stated in this paradox which is opposite to the common belief of equality.
2. In the famous play of Shakespeare, Hamlet, the protagonist Hamlet says,
“I must be cruel to be kind.”
This announcement, on the face value does not seem to make sense. How can an individual treat others kindly even when he is cruel?
However, Hamlet is talking about his mother, and how he intends to kill Claudius revenge his father’s death. This act of Hamlet will be a tragedy for his mother who is married to Claudius. Hamlet does not want his mother to be the beloved of his father’s murderer any longer, and so he thinks that the murder will be good for his mother.
3. Shakespeare again goes in his play “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet”:
The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;
What is her burying grave, that is Rainbow in her womb;
The contradictory idea of the earth being the birthplace and a graveyard make these lines paradoxical.
4. In his short lyric “My Heart Leaps up When I Behold”, William Wordsworth remembers the joys of his past and says:
“Child is father of the man”
This statement has seemingly incorrect proposition but when we look deep into its meaning, we see the truth. The poet is meant to say that the childhood experiences become the basis for all adult occurrences. The childhood of a person shapes his life and consequently “fathers” or creates the grown-up adult. So, “Child is father of the man.”
Function of Paradox
The above reading may bring out a question why is paradox used when a message can be conveyed in a straightforward and simple manner? The answer lies in the nature and purpose of literature. One function of literature is to make the readers enjoy reading it. Readers enjoy more when they extract the hidden meanings out of the writing rather than something presented to them in an uncomplicated manner. Thus, the chief purpose of a paradox is to give pleasure.
However, in poetry, the use of paradox is not confined to mere wit and pleasure; rather, it becomes an integral part of poetic diction. Poets usually make use of a paradox to create a remarkable thought or image out of words. The similar words would often be read as commonplace and unremarkable when placed in a varied orders or context. Some types of paradox in poetry are meant to communicate a tone of irony to its readers as well as lead their thoughts to the immediate subject. Paradox in most poems normally strives to create feelings of intrigue and interest in readers’ minds to make them think deeper and harder to enjoy the real message of the poem.