Antithesis Define Example Essay

Antithesis means opposite and is used as a literary device to put two contrasting ideas together. This emphasizes the difference between the two ideas and adds interest to writing.

Antithesis in Literature

  • Snow White and the Wicked Witch in Snow White
  • Dumbledore and Voldemort in Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
  • Aslan and White Witch in The Chronicles Of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times - Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Marcus Brutus and Mark Antony in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
  • Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n. in Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • To err is human; to forgive divine. - An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope
  • Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice. - Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Quotes with Examples of Antithesis

  • “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” - Neil Armstrong
  • "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “Unlike short-sighted, egocentric humans, God "sees with equal eye" the fall of a hero and a sparrow, the destruction of an atom or a solar system.” - Alexander Pope.
  • "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." - Abraham Lincoln - The Gettysburg Address
  • "I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dryrot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." - Jack London
  • "Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing." - Goethe
  • “Patience is bitter, but it has a sweet fruit.” - Aristotle
  • “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” - Samuel Johnson
  • “Folks who have no vices have very few virtues.” - Abraham Lincoln
  • "All the joy the world contains Has come through wishing happiness for others. All the misery the world contains Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself." - Shantideva

Antithesis in Common Speech & Advertising 

  • “Speech is silver, but Silence is Gold.” (source unknown)
  • “Man proposes, God disposes.” (source unknown)
  • “Money is the root of all evils: poverty is the fruit of all goodness.” (source unknown)
  • "Everybody doesn't like something, but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee." (advertising)
  • "Promise her anything, give her Arpage" (advertising)

Antithesis in Music & Films

  • It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry, the sun so hot, I froze to death - Oh Susanna!
  • You are easy on the eyes, but hard on the heart. - Terri Clark
  • I close my eyes so I can see...I burn a fire to stay cool...Shut the door so I can leave - Shut the door by Fugazi
  • Even though the sun is shining, I can feel the rain. - Roger Hodgson
  • It's never too soon, It's never too late - Bethany Joy Lenz
  • Give me some sunshine, Give me some rain, Give me another chance I wanna grow up once again. - Swanand Kirkire

Antithesis can be used in many different contexts; but, the common thread is that it contains two contrasting ideas.

Do you have a good example to share? Add your example here.

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Examples of Antithesis

By YourDictionary

Antithesis means opposite and is used as a literary device to put two contrasting ideas together. This emphasizes the difference between the two ideas and adds interest to writing.

Antithesis definition: Antithesis is a literary and rhetorical device where two seemingly contrasting ideas are expressed through parallel structure.

What is Antithesis?

What does antithesis mean? An antithesis is just that—an “anti” “thesis.” An antithesis is used in writing to express ideas that seem contradictory.

An antithesis uses parallel structure of two ideas to communicate this contradiction.

Example of Antithesis:

  • “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” –Muhammad Ali

This example of antithesis is a famous quotation from boxer Muhammad Ali. The antithesis is found in multiple aspects of this quotation.

First, the structure is parallel. Each “side” of the phrase has the same number of words and the same structure. Each uses a verb followed by a simile.

Second, the contracting elements of a butterfly and a bee seem contradictory. That is, a butterfly is light and airy while a bee is sharp and stinging. One person (a boxer, in this case) should not be able to possess these two qualities—this is why this is an antithesis.

However, Ali is trying to express how a boxer must be light on his feet yet quick with his fist.

Modern Examples of Antithesis

When he landed on the moon, American astronaut Neil Armstrong famously stated:

  • “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Through parallel structure, this quotation presents an antithesis. It seems contradictory that one action could be a “small step” and a “giant leap.”

However, this contradiction proposes that the action of landing on the moon might have just been a small physical step for the man Neil Armstrong, but it was a giant leap for the progress of mankind.

The Function of Antithesis

Primarily, writers employ antithesis for argument. As a literary or rhetorical device, a writer is trying to communicate a particular point that is best expressed through opposites. These extreme opposites emphasize that point.

An antithesis stands out in writing. Because it uses parallel structure, an antithesis physically stands out when interspersed among other syntactical structures. Furthermore, an antithesis presents contrasting ideas that cause the reader or audience to pause and consider the meaning and purpose.

Oftentimes, the meaning of an antithesis is not overtly clear. That is, a reader or audience must evaluate the statement to navigate the meaning.

Writers utilize antitheses very sparingly. Since its purpose is to cause an audience to pause and consider the argument, it must be used with purpose and intent.

Antithesis Example from Literature

Perhaps the most famous literary example of antithesis is the opening lines from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

From the beginning, Dickens presents two contradictory ideas in this antithesis.

How can it be the “best” and the “worst” of times? These two “times” should not be able to coexist.

Similarly, how can the setting of this novel also take place during an “age of wisdom” and an “age of foolishness?”

The antithesis continues.

Dickens opens his with these lines to set the tone for the rest of the novel. Clearly, there are two sides to this story, two tales of what is the truth. These two “sides” should not function peacefully. And, in fact, they do not. That, after all, is the “tale of two cities.”

Dickens sets up this disparity to set the tone for his novel, which will explore this topic.

Summary: What is an Antithesis?

Define antithesis: An antithesis consists of contrasting concepts presented in parallel structure.

Writers use antithesis to create emphasis to communicate an argument.

  • Note: The plural form of antithesis is antitheses.


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