Friday, May 6, 2011

Antithesis: Another Effective Writing Pattern

Connye Griffin writes for My Writing and Editing Coach

A few weeks ago, on March 18, 2011, I posted an essay about the Yin and Yang of sentences and language. Today’s post is the same rhetorical strategy, this time given its proper name: antithesis, defined as the use of contrasting words, phrases, sentences, or ideas, most often used in parallel grammatical structures, for emphasis. Charles Dickens used antithesis for the oft-quoted opening lines of his novel A Tale of Two Cities, hereafter formatted using bullet points and a bold font so that you can easily see contrasting words and phrases juxtaposed.

• 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,
• it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
• it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
• we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
• we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .
• for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Eight times, Dickens juxtaposes word pairs or phrases in a series of parallel clauses. For many of them, Dickens also uses the humble “it is,” a two-word beginning celebrated on April 8, 2011.

In fact, this paragraph brings together many of the syntactical lessons I have reviewed recently:

1. short, emphatic statements and clauses
2. parallel constructions
3. anastrophe
4. antithesis

Is it any wonder that Dickens’ opening lines are so memorable?

Reading Challenge:

Read or re-read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Writing Challenge:

Beginning with “it is,” as Dickens does, characterize your own age, using entirely different words to describe the times in which you live and your perception of them.

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics (GUM):

Here is another example of antithesis, this one from President George W. Bush:

"Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities."

Following Bush’s grammatical structure exactly, create your own message, one that includes antithesis.

Here’s one: Children in tow are not burdens, they are opportunities, not setbacks, but growth.