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What is Juxtaposition?

Juxtaposition is a literary term describing the placement of things near one another. The "things" could be people, places, ideas, objects, moods, motifs, emotions, etc. Juxtaposition as a literary element is accomplished by placing two (or more) "things" near each other. Much like classification in science, and comparing and contrasting, when placing two objects next to one another, the similarities and differences are typically noticeable right away. The less alike the two are, the greater the contrast, and the easier it is to spot the contrasts.

Merry and tragical? Tedious and brief?
That is hot ice, and wondrous strange snow!
How shall we find the concord of this discord?

Juxtaposition can take many forms in literature. Usually juxtaposition is used to emphasize the contrast in something, or maybe just one of the extremes of the two. Maybe it is just something silly that you wouldn't see every day to get you thinking, such as a caveman wandering around in New York City. It might involve irony, drama, injustice, or suspense. If an author wishes to highlight the difference between characters, he might use foil characters. Foil characters bring out character traits in others because of their own starkly different character traits.

Contrast can also grab attention. You might not notice important details if there were no juxtaposition to point out the differences! When opposites or dissimilar things are highlighted together, the juxtaposed items are used for extra emphasis to make the disparity even more apparent. The right kind of juxtaposition can be very humorous, foreboding, or even shocking.

Here are a few examples of items and concepts that might be juxtaposed:

  • Size
  • Number
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Texture
  • Wealth
  • Decoration
  • Emotion
  • Effort
  • Intentions
  • Before and After
  • Good and Evil
  • Light and Dark
  • Severity/Importance

Juxtaposition Definition

Literal meaning: The thing having been placed near

From Latin:
Juxta comes from iuxta meaning "near"
Position comes from positum, the perfect passive participle of ponere, meaning "to place"

Juxtaposition Examples in Literature

Because of the literal juxtaposition definition meaning "placed near", there are plenty of instances of juxtaposition that don't make news headlines. It is the things that contrast or share an oblique relationship that are significant.

Juxtaposition Activity Examples

  1. Explain the meaning of various sayings or famous quotes that use juxtaposition. For example, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks", "Beggars can't be choosers", or "The richest man is not he who has the most, but he who needs the least."

  2. Review inferences. Juxtapose two items, such as a brand new book and book worn from many readings, and have students make inferences about the two items.

  3. Juxtaposition examples are awesome for story starters. Give your students a situation where two very different things are juxtaposed and have them write a story for it to make sense… or at least to explain how it happened!

  4. Show images of characters from different pieces of literature you have read, and have students compare and contrast the character traits, character motivations, and more.

Related Activities

How to Connect Juxtaposition to Larger Themes or Messages


Introduce Juxtaposition and its Purpose

Explain the concept of juxtaposition as the placement of contrasting elements side by side for emphasis. Discuss how juxtaposition can enhance storytelling, convey deeper meanings, and evoke emotional or intellectual responses from the audience.


Analyze Juxtaposition in Various Texts or Artworks

Select literary works, visual art pieces, or media examples that employ juxtaposition. Guide students in analyzing how the contrasting elements contribute to larger themes or messages conveyed in the texts or artworks.


Identify Themes or Messages

Help students identify the central themes or messages explored in the chosen texts or artworks. Encourage them to think about overarching ideas, social issues, philosophical concepts, or human experiences that emerge from the juxtaposition of contrasting elements.


Connect Juxtaposed Elements to Themes or Messages

Facilitate discussions or activities that explore the connections between the contrasting elements and the identified themes or messages. Guide students in analyzing how the juxtaposition enhances the understanding or impact of those themes or messages.


Discuss Symbolism and Subtext

Encourage students to consider the symbolic significance or subtextual meanings associated with the contrasting elements. Help them explore how the juxtaposition contributes to the exploration of deeper layers of meaning beyond the surface level.


Encourage Reflection and Analysis

Prompt students to reflect on the broader implications of the juxtaposition and its connection to larger themes or messages in society or human experience. Encourage critical thinking and open-ended discussions about the effectiveness, interpretations, and potential cultural or historical significance of the chosen texts or artworks.

Frequently Asked Questions about Juxtaposition: Definition and Examples

What is Juxtaposition?

Juxtaposition is a literary element where two or more contrasting or complementary ideas, words, or objects are placed close together in a literary work. It is used to highlight the differences between the things that are juxtaposed and to create a greater effect on the reader. It can be used to create tension, irony, or humor, and to highlight the similarities or differences between characters, themes, or ideas.

What is the purpose of Juxtaposition in literature?

The purpose of Juxtaposition is to draw attention to the differences or similarities between the things being compared. This technique can be used to create contrast, emphasize themes or motifs, or develop characters.

What are some examples of Juxtaposition in literature?

Examples of Juxtaposition in literature include the two roads in "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, the contrast between Gene and Finny in A Separate Peace by John Knowles, and the use of light and darkness in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

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