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An antithesis is, literally, the opposite of the thesis; so, if the thesis were to be the protagonist of a story, then the antithesis would be the antagonist. Likewise, if the thesis were to be democracy, then the antithesis would be tyranny. The term has its roots in the tradition of thought known as dialectics, where the thesis and antithesis creatively interact with each other in order to produce higher forms of meaning. 

What is antithesis?

Antithesis is a noun, and generally means a person or thing that is the direct opposite of someone or something else. Antithesis literally means opposite, and is used to place two opposite ideas together in a sentence in order to achieve contrast. Antithesis can also refer to a contrast or opposition between two things, and is a literary device or figure of speech in which opposition or contrasting ideas is expressed through the parallelism of words that are opposite, or strongly contrast each other. The word antithesis is derived from the Greek anti meaning “against,” and tithenai meaning “to place.” Together, antithenai means “set against,” which dates from the early 16th century and late Middle English.


Antithesis draws the attention of readers by employing two opposite ideas in the same context. The following are examples of antithesis:

  1. Speech is silver, but silence gold.
  2. He was easy on the eyes, but hard on the heart.
  3. Man proposes, God disposes.
  4. Love is an ideal thing, but marriage is a real thing.
  5. Bitter patience bears sweet fruit.
  6. Money is the root of all evil, but poverty is the fruit of goodness.

In literature, antithesis is often used, as in 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, 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.” Dickens uses antithesis to the extreme here, indicating that nothing was certain for his characters.

Antithesis used in literature

Antithesis is a counter-proposition that defines direct contrast to the original proposition. Light is the antithesis of dark, and heaven is the antithesis of hell. The literary device can be used to contrast the inherent two sides `to every person, situation, place, and thing that exists in the universe.  Antithesis allows the drawing of lines between the two aspects of someone or something, and as such defines that thing in a more humanistic or natural state of being. Using antithesis in an explanation or definition allows the reader or audience to see it in a three-dimensional view, complicating and simplifying it at the same time.

Antithesis is a common theme in English writing, and some famous English writers who used the literary device frequently include Alexander Pope, Lyly, Arthur Young, Samuel Johnson, Edward Gibbon, and John Dryden. Dryden used the following example of antithesis in his poem “The Hind and the Panther”: “Too black for heaven, and yet too white for hell.”

Antithesis can delve into the meaning of understood terms for a deeper definition, as in the statement “True good cannot be known unless true evil is, as well.”

Antithesis is related to juxtaposition, but is not the same. In juxtaposition, normally unassociated words or phrases are put next to each other in a sentence or phrase for a discombobulating effect. Juxtaposition is a common device used in visual art, as well. Juxtaposition is used by many authors in order to portray deeper characterization, and create suspense and rhetorical effect. Juxtaposing characters who are predominantly good with characters who are predominantly evil, for instance, brings out their strongest qualities in the readers’ minds.

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