What Does Exigency Mean in Literature?

Exigency Definition

Exigency is the situation, event, or issue that demands someone's immediate action.

In literature, exigency can explain both characters’ actions and an author’s motivation to write in the first place.

Exigency as a Reason to Write

Literary exigency begins even before the author writes. Rhetorician Lloyd Bitzer called exigency “an imperfection marked by urgency,” the reason someone is moved to write or speak out, explains Monmouth College professor Lee McGaan.

The injustice of slavery, for instance, prompted abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe to write her novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Not all exigencies are political, however. An author might choose to write because she perceives an artistic exigency, a story that needs to be told. Acclaimed author Joan Didion explains this as a motivation to impose herself on the world.

What is an example of exigency?

Exigency is the reason you are moved to write. An example of exigency is the injustice of slavery prompted Harriet Beecher Stowe to write her novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Exigency as a Reason to Act

Within a literary work, characters might experience exigencies, or “pressing needs,” a synonym suggested by Synonym.com.

Why does Hamlet feel the need to investigate his father’s death and expose his uncle’s crimes? Early in the play, the ghost of Hamlet’s father asks the prince to avenge his murder, a request that spurs Hamlet’s actions and, in turn, much of the play’s plot.

The exigency in “Hamlet,” then, is Hamlet’s sense of urgency that he must expose the crime and avenge his father. Other characters experience exigencies, such as Laertes’ motivation, much later in the play, to avenge his own father’s death at Hamlet’s hands.

What are examples of exigency?

Recall, exigency is the pressing need for a character to act:

  1. To deliver a package quickly.
  2. To drive to the hospital to have the baby delivered.
  3. The suspect escaped, the police have an exigent circumstance and must act quickly.

What are synonyms for exigency?

  • Contingency
  • Crisis
  • Emergency
  • Juncture
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