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What is Epiphany

Understanding What Epiphany is and its Importance in Literature

In the following article we will take you through the concept of epiphany and help you understand its importance in literature. Continue reading for a detailed understanding of the same.
Rujuta Borkar
Last Updated: Mar 12, 2018
Epiphany is one of the most interesting concepts that you'll ever come across and one that has been used widely in English literature. But before getting to the examples of epiphany, we need to first know what is epiphany in general. Epiphany is the sudden realization about something about oneself or others in the larger sense of the term. This information is something that one was not privy to before and the realization of the same puts certain things into perspective or opens new avenues of thinking. This feeling or knowledge could be spiritual in nature or maybe not so. To understand this concept in its entirety, we'll need to take you through some examples in the following article. Continue reading for a better understanding.
What Does Epiphany Mean
Let's give you an example―let's say a girl is madly in love with a boy who does not love her. But she is so blinded by his love that no matter what others say to warn her about him, it makes no difference to her. She continues to be with him, even if he continues to treat her like any other girl. She is with him through every trouble, every insult and whatever else that the relationship brings, always hoping that one day he will declare his love for her and marry her. Then one day when they're at a party together and he's outrageously flirting with a waitress (just like any other time), she has an epiphany―a sudden realization that he is never going to marry her, he's never going to change, and never ever give her any importance in his life. And that is when she suddenly realizes the dead relationship she is in and walks out on him, the decision changing her life forever.
Or another example―a man who smokes and is told by everyone that it is unhealthy but he pays no heed and continues to do so. Until he sees his 2 year old son going for a used cigarette in the ashtray and has an epiphany of just how bad it is and gives it up.
Thus, an epiphany is a feeling, a thought, a realization that strikes from within. The essential last piece of the puzzle that brings forth a completely different outlook to the whole picture and sets forth a new perspective to life.
Many discoveries and inventions in history have also had an epiphany at their base. Like Archimedes and his discovery of how one could estimate the volume of a given mass, which prompted him to get out of his bath and run through the streets nude. Similarly, there are several such experiments, the workings of which have been working in the head of the inventor for a long time, only to have the answers come to him/her through an epiphany.
Examples of Epiphany in Literature
What does epiphany represent in literature? In literature, epiphany is used as a tool to bring new meaning to characters, to bring a twist in the tale and to portray the characters' strengths or weaknesses. Here are a few examples to help you understand this concept better.
In Edward Albee's play 'Who's afraid of Virginia Wolf' a comment has been made on the extremities of married life and the paths that married couples sometimes take to deal with the failures in life. In the story, Martha and George have no children, and to deal with the pain, they make up a false character and give it a shape and form of a real child. Their only promise is that the 'child' should never be mentioned in public. When Martha breaks the rules and mentions him in front of the guests they have over―Nick and Honey, George starts reciting the Dies Irae―the Latin mass for the dead. Martha becomes hysterical and begins to scream that George cannot take the decision to kill off their son on his own. That is when Nick has an epiphany that they never had a son to begin with and that they had been making pretenses all eve through.
Similarly, in Earnest Hemingway's story 'Cat in the rain', the cat becomes a representative of the main character's loneliness and isolation. The audience has an epiphany when the woman starts to talk about how lonely the cat is and we realize that she is talking about herself through the whole speech.
Now that you know what epiphany is and how it works in the literary sense and in the general sense, here's hoping that it has helped you understand the power of it. You'll find several texts and works in the English Language that exemplify this concept. Maybe a reading of the same will help you furthermore.