Antithesis is a figure of speech in which contrasted words or ideas are placed against each other in the form of a balance for the sake of emphasis.
It is, according to Scott, “the choice or arrangement of words to emphasize the contrast and give the effect of balance”.
According to Nesfield, “This figure consists in an explicit statement of an implied contrast”.
Things opposite, as already asserted, often make a view attractive. A black person looks bright in a white dress. In composition, too, contrasted words or ideas, when they are placed together, brighten the whole impression. As a matter of fact, words or thoughts are found often set together in contrast for the sake of emphasizing a proposition, fact, or imagery.
United we stand, divided we fall. (Morris)
In the example, ‘United we stand, divided we fall’ the ideas given in the first part of the sentence (i.e., ‘United we stand’) is set against that given in the last part (i. e., divided we fall). Since the idea of the first part is contrasted with that of the second, and their arrangement is contiguous, they balance each other. It may be argued that when the first part adequately expresses the intention of the speaker, the inclusion of the second part is quite unnecessary. To defend against this we would only mention that the exclusion of the latter part would not have thrown the idea of the former into stronger relief, nor had its meaning been as much impressive and forceful as the speaker intended. Moreover, without the presence of the second part he would not have been able to emphasize the idea given in the first part.
Antithesis in “I Have a Dream” Speech by Martin Luther King, Jr
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”
Antithesis in Apollo 11 Moon Landing Speech by Neil Armstrong
“The surface appears to be…very, very fine-grained as you get close to it. It’s almost like a powder down there. It’s very fine. Okay, I’m going to step off the LEM now. That’s one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind.”
Characteristics of Antithesis
The chief characteristics of an antithesis are given below:
(i) Two contrasted words or ideas are placed together.
(ii) These words or ideas are placed in a balanced form.
(iii) The purpose is to emphasize some thought, idea, or concept.
Examples of Antithesis with Illustrations
(1) Art is long, life is short.
This is an antithesis. In antithesis contrasted words or ideas are set against each other in a balanced form for the sake of emphasis.
Here two opposite ideas- longevity of art and impermanence of life- are placed in a balanced form for the sake of emphasis.
(2) Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. (Milton)
This is an antithesis.
Antithesis is a figure in which thoughts or words are balanced in contrast.
To the above example one idea (i. e., reigning in Hell) is sot against another (i. e., serving in Heaven) in a balanced form for the sake of emphasis as well as for making the former idea more impressive and forceful.
(3) Ho looked like a great man, and not like a bad man.
This is an instance of antithesis.
In antithesis two contrasted words or ideas are placed in a balanced form
Here the contrast is based not on ideas but on words, for in this Case the reference is to the one and the same person. The contrasted words are ‘great’ and ‘bad’.
(4) Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice. (Shakespeare)
This is an antithesis.
In antithesis contrasted words or ideas are placed together in a balanced form for the purpose of emphasis.
Here one idea (i. e., lending of one’s car to every man) is set against another (i e., speaking one’s true thoughts only to a few).
They are arranged in the form of a balance for we observe a symmetrical positioning of words between the parts, ‘every man’ of the first part being contrasted with ‘few of the last, and foar’ with “voice’.
(5) Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. (Tennyson)
This is an antithesis.
In an antithesis, two contrasted words or ideas are placed together in a balanced form for the sake of emphasis.
Here two contrasted words ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ are placed together in a balanced form, and the purpose is to emphasize the entire proposition that the speaker’s strength of will is not yet gone.
(6) Man is a hater of truth, a lover of fiction.
This is an antithesis.
In an antithesis two contrasted words or ideas are placed together in a balanced form for the sake of emphasis.
Here ‘a hater of truth’ and ‘a lover of fiction’ are two contrasted ideas. They are placed together in a balanced form, and the purpose is to emphasize the human nature that has fondness for fiction and a dislike for facts.
Function of Antithesis
An antithesis serves the following functions :
(a) It makes an idea more effective and forceful and its meaning clearer by the inclusion of its opposite.
(b) It enables us to see an idea and its opposite together.
(c) The presence of contrasted words or ideas helps to emphasize the intended idea.
(d) The mode of expression of an idea of the former part corresponding with that of a counter idea of the latter part helps them to balance each other.
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Examples of Antithesis in Literature
- Fools rush in whore angels fear to tread.
- Marry in haste; repeat at leisure.
- Genius does what it must; talent what it can
- A bright eye indicates some curiosity; a black eye too much.
- The prodigal robs his heirs; the miser robs himself.
- I never know so young a body with so old a hand. (Shakespeare )
- Men can be analysed, women merely adored. (Wilde)
- On one side stands modesty, on the other decent.
- The old contemplate, the young act. (Bacon)
- It is for us to set a great example, not to follow a wicked one. (Drinkwater)
- To err is human, to forgive divine.
- He was not the master but the slave of his speech.
- I must be cruel only to be kind.
- Tho’ much is taken, much abides. (Tennyson )
- To do a great right, do a little wrong. (Shakespeare )
- God made the country, man made the town. (Cowper)
- Man proposes, God disposes.
- You must get it ere you give.
- A friend exaggerates a man’s virtues, an enemy his crimes.
- We live in deeds, not in years.
- He replied with little force and great acrimony.
- It is a blessing and not a curse.
- Many are called but few are chosen.
- Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved one more (Shakespeare )
- A little leak will sink a great ship.
- Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers. (Shakespeare )
- Naught’s had, all’s spent. (Shakespeare )
28 Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war.
- The first in banquets, but the last in fight.
- The old order changeth, yielding place to the new. (Tennyson )
- Silence is deep as eternity; speech is shallow as time.
- Man is the hunter; woman is his game. (Tennyson)
- Women hate a debt as man a gift. (Browning )
- Made to weak by time and fate, but strong in will. (Tennyson)
- I saved him, she killed him.
- Take each man’s censure, but reserve the judgement. (Shakespeare )
- [ Of Scott] His worst is better than any other person’s best. (Hazlitt )
- Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike. (Pope )
- Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures. (Johnson)
- Give me liberty or give me death
- Children increase the cares of life but they mitigate the remembrance of death.
- In examinations the foolish ask questions that the wise cannot anster. (Wilde)
- He who can, does, he who cannot, teaches. (Shaw)
- The old believe everything: the middle-aged suspect everything: the young knot everything. (Wilde)
- Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them and wise men use them. (Bacon)
- He can bribe, but he cannot seduce he can buy, but he cannot gain, he can lee, but he cannot deceive.
- Talent is power, tact is skill, talent knows what to do, tact knows how to do it.
- Resolved to win, ho meditates the way by force to ravish, or by fraud betray. (Pope)
- Sleep is silvern, but silence is golden.
- Men’s evil manners live in brags; their virtues we writs on water. (Shakespeare)
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