Juxtaposition happens in a sentence when you place two facts close together with a contrasting effect. Herein two things are compared and contrasted creating tension and helping to further develop meaning through dissimilarity.
How to Use Juxtapose in a Sentence
Juxtapose is a transitive verb that takes a direct object. The direct object requires two things (e.g. two images, two scenes, two opinions, two ideas). Therefore, the verb’s direct object must be plural. It can only be singular if it’s followed by a prepositional phrase indicating the juxtaposition’s second part.
You can also use two direct objects that are connected with the word “and.”
The Definition of Juxtapose
Juxtaposition comes from a combination of Latin and French words: Juxta (Latin for next) and position (French). It simply means comparing two things while highlighting their differences. Oftentimes writers will choose to use juxtaposition for rhetorical effect. The words are put together in such a way as to evoke specific emotions (e.g. persuade the audience to do something).
A classic example of juxtaposition is the story of Cinderella. While Cinderella’s goodness and moral virtues are highlighted throughout the story, they are made even clearer because of the contrasting view of her wicked stepsisters.
Juxtaposition as a Writing Style
Many writers will use juxtaposition as a writing style because it serves as a great way to surprise their readers, which in turn will evoke interest in their piece. This is easily done by developing a comparison between two things that aren’t like each other. By placing these two dissimilar things side by side a writer is able to use the comparison to draw a vivid image in their readers’ minds.
When using juxtaposition in poetry, it’s also a great way to control a poem’s pace. Regardless of when it’s used, juxtaposition allows the writer to draw a logical connection between two concepts that’d otherwise remain quite vague.
How to Write a Juxtaposition
To write a juxtaposition you must begin by thinking about one thing who has a characteristic that you want to challenge or highlight in your writing. For instance, in Cinderella the one thing that was juxtaposed was her good, moral nature. You’ll then want to think of something that’s remarkably different from this idea, like the wicked stepsisters’ poor character qualities.
When put together properly you can turn the word juxtapose into an entire piece of writing. While in the beginning of your writing you can mention that you’re juxtaposing something, you really don’t have to do this at all since your readers will figure this out for themselves.
When to Use Juxtaposition
Since you use juxtaposition to compare two things, you can use the word at any time to encourage these types of comparisons. There are several types of writing in which juxtaposition is advantageous to use, including:
- Prose and poetry
- Television shows
Juxtaposition typically promotes differing views of two things that are uniquely different. Therefore you should never use this word when your intention is to prove the similarity between two things. For instance, you don’t want Cinderella to be just as evil as her stepsisters or else the word wouldn’t work for you here.
Juxtaposition as a writing technique will work well in several different circumstances, including:
- When you’re creating a setting
- Writing about characters (e.g. Cinderella and her evil stepsisters)
- Driving home a message about a theme whereby you want to strengthen the bond the reader has with the story they’re reading
It’s important to take a closer look at each of these three areas to gain a better understanding of this term and how it’s used in different types of writing.
Using Juxtaposition in Character Development
Every character in your story should be unique. One of the best ways of doing this is to give each character juxtaposing positive and negative traits. When you do this your readers will be better able to distinguish the various characters in your writing so they can choose which ones are their favorites.
Take for example the creation of a love triangle within a story. The protagonist will have a life-altering decision here which the writer wants the reader to feel the true torment they’re going through in making this choice. Add in the fact that the two characters are alike in many ways and now the protagonist can’t go wrong with either decision since they’re both perfect in every way.
However, when you give the two characters juxtaposing traits there’s a real choice to be made. Will the protagonist choose someone who has a steady job, good family, and stable life or someone who doesn’t have a job and likes to party non-stop? When you use juxtaposition here you’re encouraging your reader to make comparisons based upon their own values. By having them form their own opinion, you’re getting them to become emotionally invested in the love triangle’s outcome.
Using Juxtaposition in Setting Selection
Matching the setting with the scene’s tone is common in fiction, but it makes the story too predictable. Juxtaposing a setting can create a deeper scene and a whole other layer of emotion. For instance, instead of having a father and son have a chat at the dining room table, have them take a trip somewhere together like a demolition derby. This setting seems completely wrong for a discussion because it’s crowded, loud, and fun so the boy will think it’s just another outing. However, when the dad brings up a serious topic the scene takes on a new meaning. The cars crashing into one another now become a metaphor for the boy’s life, eliciting strong sympathy for his pain all because the father chose a bad place to talk to his son about some devastating news.
Using Juxtaposition in Prose
Juxtaposition is found everywhere in literature even though the word isn’t always used to point it out. Even book titles are known to use juxtaposition. This is a great way to create a powerful title that readers find memorable like with Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Poets also use a lot of juxtaposition without using the word itself. Instead, they merely use juxtaposing words within sentences. This is because it can be done so well that pointing it out would be a mistake.
At other times it’s difficult to point it out because the juxtaposition is more of a structural nature. This is something that many classical novelists like Charles Dickens did in A Tale of Two Cities. He’s well known for juxtaposing the antics of the rich with the plight of the poor. This is what’s known as a thematic juxtaposition – something that starts with the title then continues within the opening line of the novel just to make it clear that the juxtaposition was intended.
Why Writers Use Juxtaposition
When a writer creates a juxtaposition they’re inviting their readers to consider, compare, and contrast the relationship that occurs between these elements. There are several reasons why they may do this, including:
- This is a great way to flesh out a character. It gives the writer the opportunity to contrast the traits of one character with those of another character. This is what’s sometimes known as a foil.
- Here the nuances of a trait or an idea can be explored. This will help to ensure that nothing is missed by the reader – which otherwise may have been possible.
- Writers can use this to create a link between ideas and images that are unrelated or to create absurdity or humor.
- When writing a persuasive argument this is a great way to argue that one idea is better than the other.
Understanding the Difference Between Juxtaposition, Antithesis, Oxymoron, and Foil
Sometimes when you’re writing something you may want to actually state that you’re creating a juxtaposition. By using this word in the sentence you’re helping your audience realize that you’re not using antithesis, an oxymoron, or a foil.
While these literary terms sound like they have similar meanings, their meanings are actually much narrower. It’s important to take a moment to look at them to see them clearly for yourself.
An antithesis is a very narrow category of juxtaposition. It’s referring to totally opposite words that are placed in a parallel position to one another. A good example of that is Neil Armstrong’s famous saying, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that goes beyond contrast and creates a paradox or a deliberate contraction. This is usually done through words that are directly adjacent to one another. An example of this happens in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Here we read that “parting is such sweet sorrow.” Here we are reminded that we’re lucky to have some sadnesses.
A foil specifically deals with contrasts between characters. Characters are said to be foils of one another when the author juxtaposes them in order to emphasize their opposing characteristics. An example of this occurs in the classic fable of the tortoise and the hare.
Using the word juxtaposition in a sentence is exciting, but using it as a form of writing all on its own is brilliant. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of this word in all its forms so you can use it to help you be a better writer.