Antithesis: as a Figure of Speech Definition and Examples
Antithesis is a figure of speech where two opposite ideas are put together in a sentence to show a contrast. It is used to highlight the difference between two things or ideas to make the meaning clearer or more interesting. For example, in the sentence “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” the opposite ideas of “best” and “worst” are used to show a big contrast in the same situation. This makes the sentence more powerful and makes the reader think more about the differences.
Antithesis plays a key role in creating a structure of balance within language. By placing two contrasting ideas next to each other, not only highlights the differences between these ideas but also brings a sense of harmony and equilibrium to the sentence. This balance makes the statement more memorable and impactful because the opposition of ideas emphasizes the contrast and forces the reader or listener to consider both sides of an argument or perspective. Through this balanced structure, antithesis enhances the clarity of the message, making complex ideas easier to understand by comparing and contrasting them directly. This rhetorical device is often used to make writing or speech more persuasive, engaging, and aesthetically pleasing.
Antithesis Examples in English Literature
- William Shakespeare, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:
- “The course of true love never did run smooth.” This line uses antithesis to contrast the ideal of true love with the reality that it’s often fraught with difficulties.
- 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…” Dickens employs antithesis extensively in the opening lines to contrast the contradictions present during the French Revolution.
- Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man”:
- “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” This famous line contrasts human fallibility with the godlike act of forgiveness, highlighting the vast difference between the two.
- John Milton, “Paradise Lost”:
- “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Satan’s declaration uses antithesis to contrast the concepts of sovereignty in Hell with servitude in Heaven, emphasizing his defiance.
- William Shakespeare, “Hamlet”:
- “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” Here, Shakespeare contrasts the act of listening with speaking, suggesting a balance between being open to others’ opinions while keeping one’s own counsel.
- Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”:
- “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.” Though not a direct antithesis in structure, the poem contrasts two paths (choices) to highlight the impact of decisions on one’s life.