What is Epiphany? Definition, Examples of Literary Epiphany

Definition of epiphany: An epiphany in literary criticism refers to a character’s sudden realization.

What is an Epiphany?

An epiphany is when a character gains insight to the deeper meaning of something. That something could be an object, a situation, a moment, or other things that at the surface level mean one thing but when examined closer hold a more symbolic meaning.

Epiphany Examples

A woman has unhealthy eating habits and is fairly overweight. Fast food has become the routine meal for her family including the small children. At her son’s yearly check-up, the doctors notes that he is at an unhealthy weight and at risk for childhood diabetes. It is this moment that that woman realizes she must make a change in order to preserve her children’s health.

In this everyday situation, the woman has an epiphany. The insight she gains is that her lifestyle is affecting her child in a way that could be dangerous to his health.

Modern Examples of Epiphany

Here are some epiphany examples in real life:

A man who has been working long hours at a corporate job has missed another one of his daughter’s volleyball games. When he gets home late at night, his daughter tells him that this was the game where she was recognized for earning a scholarship. The father has an epiphany that work shouldn’t come before family and makes every game for the rest of the year.

At an AA meeting, a mother shares her experience with alcoholism and how she lost her children to the foster care system due to her addiction. Another woman in the support group has an epiphany during this speech and realizes that she doesn’t want to lose her family to this disease and is dedicated to her recovery.

The Function of Epiphany

The purpose of epiphanies in literature is to show a character’s growth. When an author includes the epiphany a character experiences, it shows that the character has learned something through his/her experience during the book. Often these epiphanies lead to the character becoming a better person because of this insight.

Examples of Epiphany in Literature

Here are some examples of epiphanies used in literature:

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the main character, Scrooge, experiences an epiphany. Scrooge begins the novel as a pessimistic, harsh man who has no sympathy for other people. On Christmas Eve, he is led through the past, present, and future by three ghosts who show him the effects his attitude has on people he loves. As a result of this journey, Scrooge has an epiphany that he no longer wants to live life in this manner and changes his outlook.

In this example, the sudden realization the character had was simply to treat others with kindness and gratitude.

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the Capulets and Montagues have held onto an ancient grudge. This feud between the families has led to countless deaths of family members as well as other citizens of Verona. However, it is not until the suicides of the families’ only children, Romeo and Juliet, that the feud is resolved.

After the deaths of their children who felt their parents wouldn’t support their marriage, the families had an epiphany that this feud was not worth losing more lives.

Summary

Define epiphany: An epiphany is the sudden awareness or realization that a character gains through an experience. Many times, the character’s epiphany leads to a positive growth in the character’s life.

Final example of epiphany:

  • In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the protagonist, Guy Montag, has lived his life going through the motions. As a firefighter in this post-apocalyptic society, he has mindlessly burned books without questioning. This continues until he has an epiphany that books are not the enemy. This sudden realization leads him to a dangerous quest for knowledge in a society that destroys it and those who seek it.