The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Antithesis: A rhetorical figure in which two ideas are directly opposed. For a statement to be truly antithetical, the opposing ideas must be presented in a grammatically parallel way, thus creating a perfect rhetorical balance.

EXAMPLES: The following line from Adrienne Rich’s “Toward the Solstice” (1977) is antithetical:

I long and dread to close.

The narrator of Paula Hawkins’s novel The Girl on the Train (2015) uses antithesis when she states: “I lived at number twenty-three Blenheim Road for five years, blissfully happy and utterly wretched.”

This passage from John Lyly’s Euphues (1579) relies heavily on antithesis:

So likewise in the disposition of the mind, either virtue is overshadowed with some vice or vice overcast with some virtue: Alexander valiant in war, yet given to wine; Tully eloquent in his glozes [flattering or fine speeches], yet vainglorious; Solomon wise, yet too too wanton; David holy, but yet an homicide; none more witty than Euphues, yet at the first none more wicked.