What is Juxtaposition?

Juxtaposition is a literary term describing the placement of things near one another. The "things" could be people, places, ideas, objects, moods, motifs, emotions, etc. Juxtaposition as a literary element is accomplished by placing two (or more) "things" near each other. Much like classification in science, and comparing and contrasting, when placing two objects next to one another, the similarities and differences are typically noticeable right away. The less alike the two are, the greater the contrast, and the easier it is to spot the contrasts.

Merry and tragical? Tedious and brief?
That is hot ice, and wondrous strange snow!
How shall we find the concord of this discord?

Juxtaposition can take many forms in literature. Usually juxtaposition is used to emphasize the contrast in something, or maybe just one of the extremes of the two. Maybe it is just something silly that you wouldn't see every day to get you thinking, such as a caveman wandering around in New York City. It might involve irony, drama, injustice, or suspense. If an author wishes to highlight the difference between characters, he might use foil characters. Foil characters bring out character traits in others because of their own starkly different character traits.

Contrast can also grab attention. You might not notice important details if there were no juxtaposition to point out the differences! When opposites or dissimilar things are highlighted together, the juxtaposed items are used for extra emphasis to make the disparity even more apparent. The right kind of juxtaposition can be very humorous, foreboding, or even shocking.

Here are a few examples of items and concepts that might be juxtaposed:

  • Size
  • Number
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Texture
  • Wealth
  • Decoration
  • Emotion
  • Effort
  • Intentions
  • Before and After
  • Good and Evil
  • Light and Dark
  • Severity/Importance

Juxtaposition Definition

Literal meaning: The thing having been placed near

From Latin:
Juxta comes from iuxta meaning "near"
Position comes from positum, the perfect passive participle of ponere, meaning "to place"

Juxtaposition Examples in Literature

Because of the literal juxtaposition definition meaning "placed near", there are plenty of instances of juxtaposition that don't make news headlines. It is the things that contrast or share an oblique relationship that are significant.

Juxtaposition Activity Examples

  1. Explain the meaning of various sayings or famous quotes that use juxtaposition. For example, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks", "Beggars can't be choosers", or "The richest man is not he who has the most, but he who needs the least."

  2. Review inferences. Juxtapose two items, such as a brand new book and book worn from many readings, and have students make inferences about the two items.

  3. Juxtaposition examples are awesome for story starters. Give your students a situation where two very different things are juxtaposed and have them write a story for it to make sense… or at least to explain how it happened!

  4. Show images of characters from different pieces of literature you have read, and have students compare and contrast the character traits, character motivations, and more.

Image Attributions
  • Question • Jan Tik • License Attribution (
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