Juxtaposition definition: Juxtaposition is a rhetorical device that places two elements in close relationship for comparative purposes.
What is Juxtaposition? Juxtaposition as a Literary Term
What does juxtaposition mean? Juxtaposition is a rhetorical device that places two elements in close relationship for comparative purposes. Juxtaposition is a type of comparison. Typically, the two elements being juxtaposed have differences and the juxtaposition is meant to highlight contrasting effects.
The term “juxtapose” includes the word parts “juxta” (next to) and “pos” (put or place). The term literally means “to put next to.”
Juxtaposition is perhaps most evident through images. “Before and after” images provide an audience an opportunity to evaluate through juxtaposition.
In the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens juxtaposes two different cities, one where it “was the best of times” and one where it “was the worst of times.” Easily and clearly, the audience can contrast the two images when they are juxtaposed.
Juxtaposition vs. Foil: What’s the Difference?
Meaning of juxtaposition: When an author uses juxtaposition, he is placing two elements near each other for comparative purposes.
Meaning of foil: A foil is a literary character that is meant to emphasize the traits of another character through opposing traits.
A literary foil is one that develops throughout a text and may not be evident at first. A common literary foil is to present a “good” character and a “bad” character. The good character’s traits emphasize the bad character’s traits, and vice versa. The Harry Potter Series characters Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy are a modern example of this type of foil.
Both juxtaposition and foil compare. However, juxtaposition is not limited to characters like foil is. In literature, juxtaposition could compare settings, statements, or just about anything else.
Juxtaposition Examples in the News
- The juxtaposition of the EU’s recent statement of concern over the rule of law in Poland and the long-overdue response by Latin American and Caribbean governments to the decades-long political crisis festering in Venezuela is a striking case in point. –Houston Chronicle
- Tonia Ko’s “Covers and Uncovers” required the strings and winds to rattle and ring brightly hued desk bells and the percussionist to “play” a metal tube using a threaded metal rod – sights that appeared as curious as they first sounded. However, the juxtaposition of earthy noises with ringing bells and instrumental tones worked well to create an abstract landscape vista. –The Washington Post
- The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. The end of every NBA season comes down to those two, powerful emotions–in a striking juxtaposition on the largest of stages. It may be cliché, but it’s undeniable. –Inc. Magazine
The Function of Juxtaposition
Why use juxtaposition? Juxtaposition is a comparative method. A writer will use juxtaposition when he is trying to show how two concepts differ.
Juxtaposition can compare any elements in writing.
Writers should use juxtaposition thoughtfully. As with any other literary element, if juxtaposition is overused, it loses its effect.
Ideally, juxtaposition helps a writer achieve his argument. Even fiction writers have an argument they are trying to communicate to the audience. Juxtaposition may be one of the tools a writer uses to do this.
Examples of Juxtaposition in Literature
Example of juxtaposition: In Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, Odysseus struggles for ten years to make his way home to the island Ithaca.
Throughout his journey, he encounters various obstacles that hinder his way. His human nature often causes him to stumble and lose focus.
The islands of Circe and Calypso serve as setting juxtapositions to Odysseus’ island of Ithaca. The islands of these goddesses offer temptation to Odysseus and his men. They are meant to take man away from the “real world” where he can relish in beauty and sin.
These islands are juxtaposed throughout the text with Odysseus’ life on Ithaca, which is demanding and realistic.
Homer juxtaposes these settings to exemplify good intentions and human nature. He wants to compare Odysseus’ life—the not-so-easy life of responsibility—to a fantastical life where Odysseus has no responsibilities whatsoever.
The juxtaposition of the settings furthers Homer’s argument with the text, which is man’s character inevitably brings about his success or failure.
Summary: What is a Juxtaposition?
Define juxtaposition: the definition of juxtaposition in literature the fact of two things being placed closed together to show contrasting effect.
To sum up, juxtaposition is:
- a side-by-side placement of two elements for comparative purposes
- a method author’s use to convey their argument
- used to show the differences between two elements