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Examples of Paradox in Literature

Examples of Paradox in Literature

Paradox can be described as a statement which presents ideas that contradict each other. The following article presents examples of paradoxes used in literature, and in general. Explanations of few of these paradoxes should help understand this literary device in a better manner.
Shashank Nakate
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Paradox is a literary device used to present contradictory ideas in an interesting manner. It is, therefore, considered synonymous to contradiction. Ironic situations can also be described with the help of this figure of speech. It can also be said that the definition of paradox is subjective. This is due to the fact that different people view this concept from different angles.
Interesting Paradox Examples
The use of paradox in literature is made in different contexts. Many variations can, therefore, be found in its usage.
  • A rich man is no richer than a beggar. ― Anonymous
  • I'm nobody. ― Anonymous
  • I'm a liar. How do you know if I'm telling the truth? ― Anonymous
  • I can resist anything but temptation. ― Oscar Wilde
  • Don't go near the water until you've learned to swim. ― Anonymous
  • If a person says about himself that he always lies, is that the truth or a lie??? ― Anonymous
  • The man who wrote such a stupid sentence cannot write at all. ― Anonymous
  • Nobody goes to that restaurant, it's too crowded. ― Anonymous
  • I know that I know nothing ― Anonymous
  • Dark knows daylight. ― Anonymous
  • Extreme rationalism, by 'seeing through' all 'rational' motives, leaves us creatures of wholly irrational behavior. ― C. S. Lewis
  • Freedom is not doing what you want, freedom is wanting to do what you have to do ... this kind of freedom is always rooted in practiced habit. ― Northrop Frye
  • To believe with certainty we must begin with doubting. ― King Stanislaw II
  • Each new power won by man (over nature) is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. ― C. S. Lewis
Examples of Paradoxes in Literature
The different paradox examples found in popular literary works are presented below.

The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb;
What is her burying grave, that is her womb;

This example is taken from The Tragedy Of Romeo And Juliet (William Shakespeare). The use of contradictory ideas makes these lines paradoxical. The idea of the earth being the birthplace as well as the graveyard for creatures is presented through these lines. Here is one more example taken from the same play,
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

These lines associate physical love with holiness, which is a contradiction in itself. Below is an example taken from the book, Adventures of Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Caroll).
"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
"I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."
"You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
"Nobody asked your opinion," said Alice.
"Who's making personal remarks now?" the Hatter asked triumphantly.

The following example is found in the book, The Holy Sonnets - Death Be Not Proud (John Donne).
"Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful ...
... One short sleep past, wee wake eternally, And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die."

The explanation of paradox in this example can be presented thus: the poet tries to demean the phenomenon of death by deeming it as just a short sleep. However, the inevitability and power of death is presented in the same paragraph.
The different examples of paradoxes presented above should give an idea about how this figure of speech is used. Such statements sound a bit absurd, but they present truth is presented in a logically conflicting manner.