What is a paradox in literature

Paradox: what it is + 9 typical examples of the stylistic device

The paradox is a popular rhetorical device, but it is also used in other areas such as philosophy and psychology. In the following, you will find out what a paradox exactly is and how you can recognize it.

The paradox has different forms and is used for different purposes. The stylistic device always pursues one goal, namely to clarify a certain state of affairs. Instead, it forms an apparent contradiction, which, however, disappears on closer inspection. We explain the stylistic device to you.

Paradox: the apparent contradiction

Paradox: the apparent contradiction

The term “paradox” is derived from the ancient Greek adjective “parádoxos”, which translates as “unexpected” or “contrary to common opinion”. And the paradox as a rhetorical stylistic device also works with this unexpected contradiction. A paradox can be a statement, the finding of a detailed examination or a phenomenon that contradicts the general expectation or the general understanding of the facts. However, once the matter has been dealt with in detail, the contradiction usually resolves itself.

The paradox seems exaggerated or even absurd at first, but it often contains one deeper truthwhich outweighs the inconsistency of the statement. In order to understand a paradox, you have to interpret the statement, search for the deeper meaning, so to speak.

A typical example of a paradox would be the sentence: "Less is more.“The words“ less ”and“ more ”seem to contradict each other clearly at first and the sentence is wrong. Only when you think about its meaning longer can you see its deeper truth. The sentence is often used, for example, when someone is applying too thick in the figurative sense, when someone is exaggerating with their style or appearance. In these cases it can often be more valuable to take a step back. Despite the apparent contradiction, the saying “less is more” carries a deeper truth in itself.

Difference Between Paradox and Oxymoron

Difference Between Paradox and Oxymoron

At first glance, the paradox seems to be the same as the oxymoron. There are also many similarities between the two rhetorical stylistic devices, but there are also unmistakable differences. The oxymoron is also a contradiction, but mostly only in one certain expression and not like the paradox rolled into one full sentence or even two sentences. The paradox is one of the Sentence figures, the oxymoron on the other hand to the Word figures, since the opposite is usually found in a single word.

Typical examples of an oxymoron are "exception rule", "black mold" or "silent scream". The combined words clearly contradict each other in their actual meaning. In addition the oxymoron lacks a deeper meaning or a deeper truth that can always be recognized in a paradox as a rhetorical stylistic device.

Examples of paradoxes

The paradox can be found in many literary texts and poems. Especially in the epoch of Baroque and in expressionism the stylistic device was used many times and in the case of the baroque it is already expressed in the characteristic representation and thus the preservation of the ephemeral, which is symbolic of the baroque era. Also the mysticism likes to make use of the paradox.

Paradoxes are particularly common in religious writings and so also in the Bible. They can often only be understood if you interpret them more precisely. They should stimulate thought and illustrate the complexity of belief and life itself.

1. "I know that I know nothing" (Socrates)

importance: In this famous sentence by the Greek philosopher Socrates he sets up a contradiction between “knowing” and “not knowing”. He says on the one hand that he does not know anything and on the other hand that he knows this. On closer inspection, however, this statement has a deeper meaning.

2. “Success is counted sweetest
Of those who never succeed "
(from Emily Dickenson's "Success Is Counted Sweetest")

importance: These first two lines of Dickenson's poem already contain a paradox, namely that only those who suffer frequent defeats can really appreciate success. However, “success” and “defeat” initially form a contradiction. Only after careful consideration does the deeper meaning of the two lines come to light.

3. Life is death and death is life.

importance: This sentence, too, is a clear paradox between “life” and “death”, but it can be interpreted in many ways and thus has a deeper meaning. In addition to the paradox, this sentence also contains the stylistic device of parallelism.

4. "This calm was an uproar!"
(from Heinrich Mann's "The Subject")

importance: This quote from Mann's novel also forms a contradiction between "calm" and "turmoil" and thus a paradox. If there is a subliminal force in the calm that begins to seep, this also gives the exclamation a deeper meaning.

5. We are strong when we are weak (2 Corinthians 12:10) and powerless in our own strength (John 15: 5).

importance: There is both a paradox and a parallelism in this quotation from the Bible. Strength and weakness are contrasted here. Contrary to popular belief, strength is presented here as negative and weakness as positive, which makes it a particularly characteristic paradox. In relation to Christianity, this quote has a hidden truth that can be transferred very well to the Christian faith.

6. We are humbled when we exalt, but He exalts us when we humiliate (Luke 14:11).

importance: This quotation from the Bible also forms a paradox in connection with a parallelism. In contrast to the general opinion, humiliation is presented positively and self-glorification is opposed as a negative component. When applied to the Christian faith, the quote is given a greater meaning.

7. We can own everything and yet have nothing; we can be poor and yet make many rich (2 Corinthians 6:10).

importance: In this paradox, the words “poor” and “rich” are juxtaposed. The deeper meaning is hidden in the insignificance of external goods and the appreciation of internal values.

8. We find perfect freedom as slaves of Christ, but bondage when we are free from His yoke (Romans 6: 17-20).

importance: This paradox sets freedom and bondage into a contradiction and presupposes that freedom can only take place under the bondage of Christian, which in principle means freedom through bondage, which in the Christian sense and reference to the kingdom of heaven acquires a deeper meaning.

9. We experience more joy when we share what we have with others than when we get more. Or, in the words of the Lord: “There is more blessedness to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

importance: This quote sets “share” and “get more” into a contradiction and thus creates a paradox. Sharing is portrayed more positively than owning. This is how Christian values ​​are conveyed.

Forms of paradoxes

Forms of paradoxes

Paradoxes are not limited to rhetorical means, however. Paradoxes are also used in other scientific disciplines such as philosophy, physics, mathematics and philosophy, mostly in the form of complicated theories. In general, you can divide paradoxes into four different forms.

Logical paradoxes: A logical paradox contradicts itself. A good example of this would be the sentence: “I always lie”. If this were true, this sentence would also already be a lie and therefore wrong. However, if it were true, the statement would not be a lie and would therefore be false again. From the point of view of logic the sentence is meaningless.

Another example: "This sentence is wrong."

Metaphysical Paradoxes: Such a paradox is not tangible for humans and goes beyond their imagination. A good example is the finiteness or infinity of space and time. Both variants seem to contradict logical thinking, but one variant must apply.

Semantic paradoxes: Here the contradiction is found in the meaning of signs.

Rhetorical paradoxes: In this case it is a question of the rhetorical stylistic device, which has an apparent contradiction, but loses it on closer inspection.

The paradox in everyday life

Although the paradox is a stylistic device that you have to think about before you understand it, there are numerous paradoxes that can be found in the Everyday language and are now quickly understood, as their deeper meaning is already known. Examples are:

  • "We learn from experience that people do not learn from experience."
  • "After all, we agree that we disagree."
  • "The only constant is change."
  • "Only death is free and it costs life."
  • "This is so true that it can only be false."

All of these sentences are often pronounced in suitable situations to help you To clarify the facts by the contradiction present in the paradox. The actual goal of a paradox is illustrated particularly well by the following sentence: “If you want to express yourself clearly, you sometimes have to contradict yourself.” Here, too, it is a paradox.

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