What Does Juxtaposition Mean
Juxtaposition is a figure of speech in which two contrasting concepts, objects, places, characters or their qualities are placed side by side in order to highlight their differences and similarities. In literature, writers use juxtaposition to develop comparisons between two dissimilar things in order to surprise the readers and evoke interest. Such a comparison creates vivid imagery and provides a rational connection between two dissimilar concepts.
Juxtaposition covers various concepts, and foil is a special type of juxtaposition. Foil is the juxtaposition of two characters. A foil either has completely different characteristics from the main character or has similar characteristics with one strikingly difference. For example, in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the juxtaposition is based on God and Satan; they both act as foils for each other. In Harry Potter, the characters of Harry and Voldemort are foils.
Many proverbs or adages in English contain examples of juxtaposition; they use two contrasting concepts to teach a moral lesson. For example,
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
All’s fair in love and war.
Making a mountain out of a molehill
Examples of Juxtaposition in Literature
“There were corpses here and there and pools of blood. I remember seeing a butterfly flutter up and down that street. Summer does not abdicate.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Victor Hugo creates two contrasting images here; one of death and violence and the other of the beauty of nature.
“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, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness..” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
In this famous opening line of A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens uses juxtaposition to set the background of the story. Juxtaposition is used throughout this novel to indicate the disparity between the haves and have-nots.
“Merry and tragical? Tedious and brief?; That is hot ice, and wondrous strange snow!; How shall we find the concord of this discord?” – William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Here, Shakespeare uses the contrasting concepts of merry and tragic, concord and discord, etc. to create a juxtaposition.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
– Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
Frost’s poem contains juxtaposition between two roads. These two roads refer to two options or two different decisions.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy presents a juxtaposition of happy families and unhappy families as his opening line. This line creates a desire for the readers to know more about the story.