Parallelism: Key characteristics and Examples

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what is Parallelism?
what is parallelism in literature?

What is Parallelism as a literary device?

Parallelism is a literary device where parts of a sentence or several sentences are constructed in the same way to add symmetry and effectiveness to the writing. It involves using the same grammatical structure or pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance. This can happen at the level of words, phrases, clauses, or even larger structural elements. For example, in the sentence “She loves singing, dancing, and playing piano,” the list of verbs is in the same form, which creates a rhythm and balance in the sentence. Parallelism is often used to persuade, motivate, or emphasize in speeches and poetry, as well as in prose.


Key characteristics of parallelism

  1. Similar Structure: Parallelism often involves repeating a specific sentence structure or pattern of words. For example, “She likes reading, swimming, and jogging.” In this sentence, the parallel structure is the list of verbs in the “-ing” form.
  2. Enhancing Rhythm and Flow: By using repeating structures, parallelism can create a rhythm in prose or poetry that makes the text more engaging and easier to follow.
  3. Emphasis on Ideas: Parallel structures can emphasize the ideas being presented. It often makes relationships or contrasts between different ideas more apparent and strengthens the argument or narrative.
  4. Use Across Genres: Parallelism is found in a wide range of literary genres, including poetry, prose, speeches, and persuasive writing.
  5. Variety of Forms: Parallelism can manifest in different forms, such as antithesis (contrasting ideas expressed in a parallel structure), anaphora (repeating the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses), and isocolon (parallelism where the elements are similar not only in structure but also in length).

Examples of Parallelism in literature.

Parallelism is a common literary device found across various forms of literature. Here are some examples from well-known works:

  1. From 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…”
    • The repetition of the phrase “it was” at the beginning of each clause creates a balanced and rhythmic effect, highlighting the contrasts described in the opening lines of the novel.
  2. From Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech:
    • “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
    • This sentence uses parallel structure in the phrases “by the color of their skin” and “by the content of their character,” emphasizing the contrast in the criteria for judgment.
  3. From John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address:
    • “Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on Earth God’s work must truly be our own.”
    • The parallel structure in “asking His blessing and His help” and “knowing that here on Earth God’s work must truly be our own” emphasizes the dual responsibility of seeking divine guidance and taking personal action.
  4. From William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”:
    • “Brutus is an honourable man; so are they all, all honourable men…”
    • The repetition of “honourable man” in relation to Brutus and the others serves to question the true honor of these men through irony.
  5. From J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series:
    • “He was brave, he was selfless, he was loyal.”
    • This sentence describing a character uses a series of adjectives in a parallel structure to build a strong character profile.
  6. From Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”:
    • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
    • The structure of this opening line, with each part balancing the other, sets the tone for the novel’s exploration of marriage and wealth.

Parallelism in these examples serves various purposes, from creating memorable speeches to establishing a rhythm in prose, and from enhancing the clarity of ideas to adding poetic beauty to the text.


Parallelism Study Guide Questions

Here are some exam questions focused on parallelism for English literature students:

  1. Identification and Function: “Identify an example of parallelism in the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and explain how it contributes to the themes or characters in the story.”
  2. Comparative Analysis: “Compare two different uses of parallelism in Shakespeare’s plays. How does each use of parallelism serve the play’s overall narrative or themes?”
  3. Creative Application: “Write a short paragraph describing a sunrise using parallelism. Explain how your use of this literary device enhances the description.”
  4. Effect on Reader: “How does the use of parallelism in a poem you’ve studied affect your understanding or enjoyment of the poem?”
  5. Parallelism in Speeches: “Analyze the use of parallelism in a famous political or historical speech. What effect does this have on the speech’s persuasiveness or memorability?”
  6. Characterization Through Parallelism: “Discuss how an author uses parallelism to develop a character’s personality or highlight a particular character trait.”
  7. Parallelism and Theme: “Examine how parallelism is used to reinforce a key theme in a literary work of your choice.”
  8. Style and Structure: “How does parallelism contribute to the overall style and structure of a specific poem or piece of prose?”
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