Anaphora Study: Literary Terms

Anaphora definition
Anaphora as a literary device

Anaphora Study: Definition and Examples

Anaphora is a rhetorical device used in literature, speeches, and poetry, characterized by the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses, sentences, or lines. This technique is employed to create emphasis, build rhythm, and enhance the emotional power of the language. Anaphora can unify a piece of writing, making it more memorable and impactful by drawing the reader’s or listener’s attention to a particular theme or idea.

For example, in Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he uses anaphora by repeatedly starting sentences with “I have a dream,” which emphasizes his vision for equality and justice. This repetition not only reinforces the central message of the speech but also creates a rhythmic pattern that enhances its persuasive effect.

In literature, anaphora can evoke a strong emotional response, add emphasis to a particular point, and contribute to the overall mood and tone of the work. It’s a powerful tool for writers to connect with their audience on an emotional level, making the message more poignant and memorable.

Examples of Anaphora from Literature

1. Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …”

  • This famous opening uses anaphora to contrast the extremes of the French Revolution, setting the stage for the novel’s exploration of duality and conflict.

2. William Shakespeare, “Macbeth”

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time;”

  • Shakespeare uses anaphora to emphasize Macbeth’s despair and the monotony of time leading to his inevitable end, highlighting the futility and transient nature of life.

3. Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream”

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

  • This excerpt from King’s speech demonstrates anaphora’s power in driving home the central themes of hope, equality, and freedom.

4. Walt Whitman, “I Hear America Singing”

“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,”

  • Whitman employs anaphora to celebrate the diverse and individual contributions of American workers, creating a unified national identity through their collective song.

5. Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,”

  • Ginsberg uses anaphora to lament the destruction of his generation’s potential, emphasizing the repetition of “I saw” to bear witness to their suffering and longing for transcendence.
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