What is a Maxim? Definitions, Examples of Maxims in Literature

Maxim definition: A maxim is defined as a short, memorable statement that gives advice.

What is a Maxim in Literature?

Maxim meaning: A maxim is a short, memorable statement that gives wise advice on how to behave.

Example of Maxim

The maxim “the early bird gets the worm” is a short statement that gives behavioral advice. It advises the listener to be early or prompt in order to be successful.

Function of Maxims

Many writers, philosophers and politicians coin phrases that are memorable and give their audiences behavioral advice. These phrases become maxims once they are repeated over time. While they may sound cliché, they can be appealing and add connections with the audience due to their wide understanding.

Modern Examples of Maxim

Here are some everyday uses of maxims:

A stitch in time saves nine = meaning fixing problems immediately and efficiently can save you extra work in the long run

The lawyer who represents himself has a fool as a client = meaning those criminals who say they will represent themselves are foolish

It’s better to be safe than sorry = meaning at times, it is important to not take great risks because they may leave the person feeling sorry due to the consequences

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure = meaning the value of objects may be subjective based on the person

You’re never too old to learn = meaning people should not be stubborn in learning and growing as they age

Examples of Maxims in Literature

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the Friar warns Romeo against moving too quickly into marriage with Juliet. He advises Romeo to take things “wisely and slow” because “they stumble that run fast”. Romeo had just recently met Juliet hours before he asked the Friar to marry them. This line has become a maxim that teaches the audience to take their time with important decisions because if you rush through them, the plans may fall apart.

In the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, the speaker encourages the reader to take risks in life. This maxim is found in the last stanza, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/ I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference”. The speaker describes a struggle he encountered when trying to make a decision regarding a path, literally or metaphorical, that he must take in life. This maxim has been widely quoted as advice to not always follow the crowd.

In the novella Animal Farm by George Orwell, the line “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” is considered to be a maxim. This statement reflects the behavioral philosophy of the upper class. While they say all society deserves the same rights, those who are privileged deserve more.

Summary: What Does Maxim Mean?

Define maxim in literature: A maxim is a widely used statement that offers behavioral advice.

Final Example:

Benjamin Franklin once said, “well done is better than well said.” This maxim advises people that their actions do far more good than simply saying words. It goes along with the saying that actions speak louder than words.