Examples of an Antithesis in Literature

Antithesis is the use of two contrasting elements or ideas in a work of literature. Authors use antithesis to establish a relationship between two ideas or characters. They may also use the device as a description, to drive a point home, as a figure of speech, or to be ironic or satirical.

Examples of Antithesis in Poetry

In "The Cod and the Pebble", William Blake uses antithesis in the last line of the first stanza. Blake writes ​"And builds a Heaven in Hell's despair"​. Heaven and Hell are two contrasting ideas, and Blake uses them in the same sentence to create emphasis.

Indian poet Shantideva uses antithesis in the first and third lines of the poem “All the Joy the World Contains” when he writes: ​“All the joy the world contains…/All the misery the world contains.”​ In the second line, Shantideva writes about ​“wishing happiness for others,”​ but in the fourth line, he expresses ​“wanting pleasure for oneself.​”

Examples of Antithesis in Fairy Tales

Fairy tales often present antithetical characters or situations.

“Snow White”​ by the Brothers Grimm has the characters Snow White and the wicked Queen. Snow White is a young woman who is kind, modest, optimistic and generous. The Queen is a witch who is jealous, vain, evil, old and unkind.

The story of ​“Cinderella”​ is similar as Cinderella is modest, hard-working and beautiful. She’s treated poorly by her step-sisters and step-mother, who are ugly, selfish and lazy.

In the story of ​“Jack and the Beanstalk,”​ Jack is small and poor while the giant is big and surrounded with wealth.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s ​“The Little Mermaid,"​ the Little Mermaid lives under the sea while the prince she loves lives on land.

Examples of Antithesis in Books

In the book ​“The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time,”​ Douglas Adams writes, “We notice things that don't work. We don't notice things that do. We notice computers, we don't notice pennies. We notice e-book readers, we don't notice books.” Examples of antithesis in this statement are the things that do work and things that don’t work, as well as the characters seeing e-book readers, but not books.

“A Tale of Two Cities”​ by Charles Dickens starts out: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” In this opening paragraph, Dickens uses antithesis, for example, when he talks about good and bad times, an age of wisdom and foolishness, a season of light and darkness, hope and despair, having everything and nothing, and going to heaven or “the other way.”.

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