Figures of Contrast

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They are formed by intentional combination, often by direct

juxtaposition of ideas, mutually excluding, and incompatible with one

another, or at least assumed to be. They are differentiated by the type of

actualization of contrast, as well as by the character of their connection

with the referent.

Oxymoron. Oxymoron discribes some feature to an object

incompatible with that feature. It is a logical collision of notional words

taken for granted as natural, in spite of the incongruity of their mean-

ings. Ex: His honour rooted in dishonour stood

And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true. (Tennyson)

Evidently an attributive or an adverbial combination forming oxy-

moron is not devoid of sober sense despite its outward illogicality: it

probably would be but for the fact that one of its two components is used


This figure of speech is not too often met with; the more expressive is

its stylistic effect. It is not absurd for absurdity's sake, but discloses the

essence of the object full of seeming or genuine discrepancies.

"I liked him better than I would have liked his father... We were

fellow strangers."

Sometimes, oxymoron becomes obliterated, as in "I'm a great little

kidder. Don't pay attention to it" (Chase). In certain cases oxymoron displays no illogicality and, actually, no

internal contradictions, but rather an opposition of what is real to what

is pretended:

"I am preferably a man of mildness, but now and then, I find

myself in the middle of extremities." (O. Henry)

Antithesis. This phenomenon is incomparably more frequent than

oxymoron. It denotes any active con-

frontation, emphasized co-occurrence of notions, really or presumably

contrastive. The two opposed notions may refer to the same object of

thought or to different objects. The former variety is logically related to oxymoron (the same referent gets mutually exclusive characteristics).

The purpose of using this device is to demonstrate the contradictory

nature of the referent, as in the following illustration:

"Large houses are still occupied while weavers' cottages stand

empty." (Gaskell)

It must be admitted that classification of antitheses is on the whole risky

due to the very general character of the notion of antithesis. The borderlines

of the phenomenon are vague by their nature. Perhaps the surest way is to

assume that antithesis is any identification of contrast meant to be perceived

by the recipient. The most natural, or regular expression of contrast is the

use of antonyms. We have already seen it: best — worst, wisdom —

foolishness, light — darkness, everything — nothing. And yet, as already

suggested, the notions opposed may be only apparently contrasting, i.e.

opposite (or essentially divergent) from the particular viewpoint of the

speaker or writer. This is observable in high fees and light lessons. High and

light are not antonyms; moreover, they denote incompatible qualities, the

former primarily pertaining to vertical dimensions, the latter, to weight.

"You have a kind nucleus at the interior of your exterior after

all." (O.Henry)

Antithesis is not only an expressive device used in every type of

emotional speech (poetry, imaginative prose, oratory, colloquial speech),

but also, like any other stylistic means, the basis of set phrases, some of

which are not necessarily emphatic unless pronounced with special force:

now or never, dead or alive, yes or no, black and white, from top to toe, the

first and the last (a biblical expression), etc.

To conclude the chapter on semasiology of sequences, the devices

outlined are presented below in a scheme showing their classification.

Every manual on stylistics acquaints the learner with specific features

of various types of speech (various texts). Those published in this country

just since the late 1950s contain collectively as much information of this

kind as to make presumptuous any attempt at offering the reader anything

more comprehensive than can be found elsewhere. Therefore the chapters

to follow contain only a critical survey of some of the existing style

classifications, analysis of the few concepts that disclose, in the author's

opinion, the most essential 'principium divisionis', and finally, a brief

description of several sublanguages singled out on the basis of that



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