What is a Trope? Definition, Examples of Tropes in Literature

Trope definition literature: A trope is one of the major types of figures of speech.

What is a Trope?

One of the major types of figures of speech, to trope with language is to twist the literal meaning of a word or phrase into meaning something else.

Example of Trope

  • I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.

In this phrase, the speaker does not literally mean that he could eat an entire horse. Instead, he is using a type of trope, a hyperbole, in order to emphasize the degree of hunger he feels.

The Function of Tropes

Tropes are a type of figurative language that allow for the writer to create images for the reader. They also allow for the writer to establish a desired effect through the images created through the use of tropes.

Different Types of Tropes

Here is a short list of tropes a writer may use in his or her writing:

Euphemism: A euphemism is a mild word or expression that is used to replace one that may seem too blunt or harsh.

  • For example, the phrase he’s from the other side of the tracks, is a euphemism that really means that the person is poor or from an undesirable place.

Irony: Irony is the contrast between appearance or expectation and reality.

  • For example, in the short story The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, the protagonist, Rainsford, is expecting to go on a trip to hunt large game. However, he ends up being the one who is hunted.

Hyperbole: Hyperbole is the use of deliberate exaggeration for a desired effect.

  • For example, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm the character Squealer is said to persuade so well that he could “turn black into white”. This description is an example of a hyperbole that is used to emphasize a characteristic.

Litotes: litotes are the opposite of hyperboles and make a point by denying its opposite.

  • For example, when someone says “not a bad idea” they are implying that the suggestion is in fact a good one.

Metaphor: a metaphor is a figure of speech that involves the representation of one thing for another without the use of like or as.

  • For example, if one were to say that child is a wild animal to emphasize his unruliness this would be an example of a metaphor. The speaker is implying a wild animal is a representation of the child.

Metonymy: metonymy is a kind of trope where one thing is represented by something that is commonly associated with it.

  • For example, if someone were to say that’s a nice set of wheels, “wheels” is a metonymy for the word car.

Synecdoche: is a trope in which part of something is used to represent the whole, or on occasion the whole is used to represent the part.

  • For example, if you were to visit the South, you may encounter people referring to all sodas as cokes.

Trope Examples in Literature

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says that Juliet is “a snowy dove trooping with crows” when he first lays eyes on her. This is an example of a trope in the form of a metaphor because he is using a dove to represent the beautiful Juliet in order to emphasize her beauty.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the Radley family is described as “buying cotton” which is a euphemism for saying that do nothing in terms of employment. Euphemisms are used throughout this book because the South is well-known for having using they phrases, so it makes the story true to its setting.


Define trope in literature: Tropes are the twisting of language to create a meaning beyond the literal.

Final Example:

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio is fatally stabbed by the fiery Tybalt; however, when questioned regarding the severity of the wound, he replies that it “tis but a scratch” rather than giving the true degree of injury.

This use of tropes allows the audience to see that Mercutio’s humor follows him even as he is dying.