Paradox Examples in Literature

What is paradox? In simple terms, it is one of the most important literary devices that poets and authors use. When a writer makes use of a paradox, he creates a sentence in which, the two parts seem contradictory, except when studied on a deeper level. One of the earliest known examples of paradox can be traced back to the teachings of Christ, which quoted him as, “They have ears but hear not.” Paradox is commonly used by people in normal conversation. It is a great way of getting someone’s attention, as contradictory sentences often are more noticeable. Using paradox is also a great way of emphasizing on a contradiction to create effect. Some of the best examples of paradox can be found in the works of Oscar Wilde and G.K. Chesterton. Most examples of paradox that they used were of the rhetorical variety.

In Poetry

Most examples of paradox that you find in literature may not necessarily be one paradoxical sentence that is used in the literary work. More often than not, the entire piece of a poem or prose can be a paradox. For example, the poem It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free by William Wordsworth. While initially the narrator or the poet seems to be the worshiping kind, by the end of the poem you realize that it is his companion, a young girl, who is filled with worship and sympathy for nature. This is one of the often quoted paradox examples in literature.

  • What more miraculous thing may be told,

    That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice,

    And ice, which is congeal’d with senseless cold,

    Should kindle fire by wonderful device
    ?” – Ice and Fire by Edmund Spenser
  • The howling ship of the wind,

    Its gathering rage,

    Like some dark ancestral spectre.

    Fearful and reassuring
    .” – Hurricane hits England by Grace Nichols
  • Death be not proud, though some have called thee

    Might and dreadful…

    …One short sleep past, wee wake eternally, And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die
    .” – The Holy Sonnets – Death Be Not Proud by John Donne
  • The silence of midnight, to speak truly, though apparently a paradox, rung in my ears .” – The Last Man by Mary Shelley
  • I dwell in a lonely house I know,

    That vanished many a summer ago
    ,” – Ghost House by Robert Frost
  • Men work together whether they work together or apart.” – The Tuft of Flowers by Robert Frost

In Prose

While it may be easy to assume that paradox examples are generally examples from poetry, the fact of the matter is that there are many paradox examples in prose as well. William Shakespeare used a lot of paradox in his plays, so you will find many paradox examples from Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and many of his other works often quoted. Given below are some of the most quoted literary paradox examples for kids and adults.

  • All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” – Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young.” – George Bernard Shaw”
  • ‘Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

    ‘I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone, ‘so I can’t take more.’

    ‘You mean you can’t take less,’ said the Hatter: ‘it’s very easy to take more than nothing.’

    ‘Nobody asked your opinion,’ said Alice.

    ‘Who’s making personal remarks now?’ the Hatter asked triumphantly.
    – Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • I must be cruel to be kind.” – Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,

    And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss
    .” – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  • The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;

    What is her burying grave, that is her womb
    ;” – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Now, you know which are the best known paradox examples in literature that will help you understand the concept better. These examples can be a little difficult to understand but with dedicated reading and comprehension, you should be able to understand the meaning that the writer is trying to convey through these lines.

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