Types of Paradox in Literature

Paradox Definition

A self-conflicting statement which at first appears to be confusing but later-on it became latent truth. It is often used to make the reader able to think deeply.  It is a rhetorical device used to draw attention, to secure importance in a sentence.

It was first known used in middle of 16th century.


“The child is father of the man”.

William Wordsworth, My heart leaps up

“Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeeded.”

Emily Dickenson

“We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men.”

T.S. Elliot

Types of Paradox

There are two kinds of paradox:

  1. Particular
  2. General

1- Particular or local paradox

It is a concise statement which consists on the epigrammatic sentence. Shakespeare used paradox in his famous drama “Hamlet”:

‘I must be cruel only to be kind’

This phrase was used by Hamlet after he has criticized his mother for her disloyalty to the memory of her deceased husband.

Sir Thomas Browne’s magnificent image:

‘The sun itself is the dark simulacrum and light is the shadow  God’’

In this quote, Browne’s consider the sun as an highest element in his thought and he endows it with the complex function of symbolizing being and becoming. He saw in the sun most appropriate symbol for the expression of God.

2- General or Structure Paradox

This form of paradox is complex. The work of metaphysical poets, especially Donne and Marvell are considered to be possibilities of paradox as a fundamental structural device.

In The Will, Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward and the sonnet beginning:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so…

The speaker is directly talking to the death by considering death as an arrogant being, and one who needs to be humbled. He tells him that it must not to be so proud, even though for generations people have feared Death and called him “mighty and dreadful”. The poet uses the literary tactic of “apostrophe” as “thou art not so…” to drive home his point. Apostrophe occurs when a writer addresses a subject who cannot respond. Death, though adequately personified, cannot respond to the accusations of the poet.

Further Marvell’s poem “The Garden” depends on a central paradoxical idea. Other good instances are to be found in Milton’s Lycidas.

In modern times, G.K. Chesterton uses paradox like a comedian and considered it an inexhaustible source of humor. T.S. Eliot in “Little Gidding” uses paradox as under:

Midwinter spring is its own season

Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,

Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.

When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,

The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,

In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,

Reflecting in a watery mirror

A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.

And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,

Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire

In the dark time of the year.

The poet states that “Midwinter spring,” sounds like a strange concept, mixing spring and winter. He claims that it’s “Sempiternal,” which means timeless, though it gets wet and muddy toward the end of the day. Drawing on the speaker’s fusion of opposites throughout this poem, this moment is “Suspended in time.” The moment is also caught between “pole” and “tropic.” The poles of the Earth are the two tips (north and south) and the tropics are horizontal lines that go around the Earth both above and below the equator. If something’s caught between pole and tropic, it basically means that these are the regions where the change of the seasons is felt most dramatically. If it’s suspended in time, though, it seems to go beyond the logic of changing seasons. This points to the poet’s desire to talk about something in our lives that stays constant even as other things change. When he talks about a “windless cold” being the heart’s heat, he might be gesturing back to his earlier idea that it’s only when you hit rock-bottom that you start to discover your spirit. It’s only when your world is spiritually cold that you feel the warmth of your heart.

Further Reading

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *