What is a Paradox? Definition, Examples of Paradox as a Literary Term

Paradox definition: A paradox is a statement that presents a situation that sounds self-contradictory.

What is a Paradox?

What does paradox mean? A paradox is written as a logical statement. However, elements of the statement seem or are self-contradictory, making the proposition unlikely.

A paradox presents a situation. A paradox is generally a sentence or multiple sentences in length.


Example of Paradox:

What is a paradox in literature Here’s an example of paradox from George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

  • “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

This is a paradox because, as a situation, these two events are contradictory. It seems unlikely for animals to be more equal than others when they are all equal.

Paradox vs. Oxymoron: What’s the Difference?

A paradox is a term that presents a situation where two events seem unlikely to coexist.

Example of a paradox meaning An oxymoron is paradoxical in nature but is a figure of speech rather than a situation or event. An oxymoron is generally only two terms in length.

To separate the two, consider that a paradox is an event or a situation and an oxymoron is a figure of speech.

Example of Oxymoron:

  • jumbo shrimp

By definition, the word “shrimp” refers to something very small. To describe a shrimp as “jumbo” seems contradictory. How can something so small be called “jumbo?” This is an oxymoron.

The Purpose of a Paradox

Paradox in a sentence A paradox is a tool that writer uses to present the unique features of a particular situation. A paradox is used to make the audience really consider the situation it presents. Since the situation in a paradox is contradictory, it causes a pause in reading for additional understanding.

Orwell’s example from above does just that. Because something is “off” about the statement, the reader must consider it longer before proceeding.

Often, this is a way to present an interesting concept or idea or to make a statement without stating an opinion outright.

Because of the contradictory nature of a paradox, it should be used only when a writer has a particular point or comment to make. Furthermore, a paradox causes the audience to stop and think; therefore, it should only be used when it directly connects to the purpose.

Examples of Paradox in Literature

Define paradoxical definition Paradox examples in literature: In George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, much of the novel’s premise exits in paradoxes. This is because the ruling Party is so extreme, that to believe in it would be to believe in logical contradictions.

In the text, the Party’s motto is this: “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

To any “outsider” these propositions are unlikely and therefore paradoxes. However, to a character in 1984, this is accepted as truth.

Orwell skillfully uses paradoxes to show the dominance of the Party to reinforce his dystopia.

Examples of Paradox in General Use

Here are a few examples taken from various newspapers of paradox being used in a general setting, not necessarily as a literary term.

Examples of a paradox in poetry The issue is neatly illustrated by Condorcet’s paradox, which shows that a shifting set of coalitions can make a collective body appear that it has no idea what it wants. –The New York Times

There’s no player in golf who is more of a paradox than Dustin Johnson. Johnson carries an air of indifference about him in his body language. He appears unflappable, his psyche impenetrable. He avoids introspection like golfers avoid out-of-bounds stakes and water hazards. The last thing you’re going to see Johnson do — regardless of how deep the latest flesh wound is in his star-crossed career — is open a vein and allow his emotions to bleed out in public. –New York Post

It’s perhaps the game’s ultimate modern paradox: Why do we so often hear fans lobbying to see more attention paid to the sort of team-first, right-way-to-play, wildly successful organization that the Spurs have built, but then pay so little attention themselves when given the choice? –ABC News

Summary: What is the Meaning of Paradox?

Define paradox in literature: the definition of paradox in literature is a statement that seems to contradict itself but may nonetheless be true.

In summary, a paradox is:

  • a situation that presents events which seem unlikely to coexist
  • used to cause pause and refection in the audience
  • used sparingly in writing and only to connect to purpose