Guide to Literary Terms

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Paradox

A statement that is self-contradictory, sometimes to the point of being absurd, but contains an element of truth nonetheless. There are also situational paradoxes, in which characters find themselves in a situation that seems impossible to reconcile (fex: a “catch-22”). In literature, paradoxes often reveal or point to a larger theme in the novel; consider the line “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” from Animal Farm.

Correct example:
  • “I can resist anything but temptation.”

    • Oscar Wilde’s famous paradox highlights how we often think we can remain strong in the face of temptation but fail when put to the test.

Incorrect examples:

  • “sweet sorrow”

  • “open secret”

    • Both of these are oxymorons, not paradoxes.