Definition of Parallelism
Parallelism is the use of components in a sentence that are grammatically the same; or similar in their construction, sound, meaning or meter. Parallelism examples are found in literary works as well as in ordinary conversations.
This method adds balance and rhythm to sentences giving ideas a smoother flow and thus can be persuasive because of the repetition it employs. For example, “Alice ran into the room, into the garden, and into our hearts.” We see the repetition of a phrase that not only gives the sentence a balance but rhythm and flow as well. This repetition can also occur in similar structured clauses e.g. “Whenever you need me, wherever you need me, I will be there for you.”
Common Examples of Parallelism
- Like father, like son.
- The escaped prisoner was wanted dead or alive.
- Easy come, easy go.
- Whether in class, at work or at home, Shasta was always busy.
- Flying is fast, comfortable, and safe.
Examples of Parallelism in Literature
In literature, parallelism is used in different ways to impress upon the readers in order to convey messages or moral lessons. Let us analyze a few examples of parallelism in literature:
Antithesis is a kind of parallelism in which two opposite ideas are put together in parallel structures. Alexander Pope in his “An Essay on Criticism” uses antithetic parallel structure:
“To err is human; to forgive divine.”
Imperfection is a human trait and God is most forgiving. Through these antithetical but parallel structures, the poet wants to say that God is forgiving because his creation is erring.
We find parallelism in John Donne’s poem “Community”,
“Good we must love, and must hate ill,
For ill is ill, and good good still;
But there are things indifferent,
Which we may neither hate, nor love,
But one, and then another prove,
As we shall find our fancy bent.”
Contrasting ideas of “good” and “ill”, “love” and “hate” are placed together in parallel structures to emphasize the fact that we love good because it is always good and we hate bad because it is always bad.
We see the repetition of parallel structures in the following lines from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens:
“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.
By repeating “It was…” in the passage, the readers are prompted to focus on the traits of the “age” they will read about in the succeeding passages.
We see William Blake employ Parallelism in his poem “The Tyger”:
“What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?”
The use of parallel structures, starting with “what”, creates a beautiful rhythm in the above lines.
Parallelism takes form of “Diazeugma” in which a single subject is connected with multiple verbs. Read the following lines from the speech of Norfolk in William Shakespeare Henry VIII, Act 3, Scene 2:
“My lord, we have
Stood here observing him: Some strange commotion
Is in his brain: he bites his lip, and starts;
Stops on a sudden, looks upon the ground,
Then, lays his finger on his temple; straight,
Springs out into fast gait; then, stops again,
Strikes his breast hard; and anon, he casts
His eye against the moon: in most strange postures
We have seen him set himself.”
The use of multiple verbs in the above lines creates a dramatic effect in the speech of Norfolk that makes his description vivid.
Function of Parallelism
The use of parallel structures in speech or writing allows speakers and writers to maintain a consistency within their work and create a balanced flow of ideas. Moreover, it can be employed as a tool for persuasion as well because of the repetition it uses.