Just a Position on Juxtaposition

JJ is for Juxtaposition

What is juxtaposition?

jux•ta•po•si•tion [juhk-stuh-puh-zish-uhn] noun 1. an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.

Juxtaposition is a literary device used to create a vivid mental image by placing two dissimilar things side by side. Imagine trying to understand the concept of darkness without comparing it to light. It is much easier to grasp a concept when contrasting it with its opposite or something vastly different.

One of the most well-known uses of juxtaposition occurs in the Old Testament of the Bible:

Ecclesiastes 3
1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

How is juxtaposition used in literature?

Here are a few examples:

In book titles

Juxtaposition in book titles sparks interest in the story. Consider the following examples:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

In Settings

• To set the tone of the story

One of the most memorable opening lines in classic literature is from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:

“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, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

• To contrast the opening image with the final image

One way to show how much has changed over the course of the story is to contrast the final image with the opening image. The best example that comes to mind occurs in the novel Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

The first scene shows Lennie taking long gulps of water from a deep green pool. George walks up behind him and scolds him for drinking from a questionable water source. George is obviously concerned about Lennie’s well-being.

The last scene shows George and Lennie at the same pool with Lennie drinking water from it once again. They sit and George instructs him to look out over the pool and imagine their future together. From behind him, George retrieves a gun from his pocket and shakily places the gun to Lennie’s head.

In Characters

• To create contrast between characters

This is often done between the hero and the villain. We all know of the typical villain dressed in black and the hero of course is wearing white. Consider Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. One is evil and draws power from the dark side. The other is good and reflects the light.

• To create contrast within a character

The contrast within a character creates interest. It makes them more memorable. A villain that is just plain evil is boring, but what about a serial killer who affectionately cares for his invalid mother?

Can you think of other ways to use juxtaposition in writing? Can you think of other examples of juxtaposition in book titles? In settings? In characters?

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18 thoughts on “Just a Position on Juxtaposition”

  1. This is great. I was going to use this word fort own post. Only, I’d have talked about juxtaposition within artworks, or my own fanfic & edited videos I’ve created. I loved that you used literacy and language to describe the term, it provided me with an ulterior perspective.

  2. I love to say juxtaposition almost as much as use it! Sidebar: I’m ‘J’ for jealous of your beautiful office. Please tell me that you ‘borrowed’ that picture. That it’s not really your office at all. That way I won’t go out immediately and buy everything in that photo!

    1. I agree. It’s a fun word! That’s the room I write in, which also does double duty as a craft room, though I mostly write in it. I figured if I was going to spend a lot of time in it then it should reflect my taste. I’m glad you like it. 🙂

  3. I’m thinking of Harry and Voldemort, and yet they’re more like yin and yang, in that they are opposite but have a small part of the other in each of them.
    Food for thought. I’ll have to read my manuscript with juxtaposition in mind. Thanks, Melissa, for bringing this up. 🙂

    1. You’re welcome. I like the point you made about Harry and Voldemort. Yin and yang is the perfect way to describe them (with the small dot representing their connection).

  4. One thing that came to mind was a real life setting — We visited Canterbury, England, many years ago and visited the Canterbury Cathedral. If you look at an aerial view, you’ll see the ancient massive cathedral juxtaposed against the surrounding clustered modern buildings. It was weird to walk through the crowded streets and suddenly come upon it, like you’d gone through a time machine.

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