The antithesis is a stylistic device of rhetoric and can be found in texts of all kinds. A thesis is a claim, whereby Anti can be translated with “against”. Antithesis is, therefore, a counter-assertion or a compilation of opposing concepts. Thus the antithesis is related to the oxymoron and the chiasm.
In principle, we have to distinguish between two types of use with respect to this style figure. Thus, each thesis can be answered with an antithesis, if, for example, a statement is contradicted. However, the literature also contains antitheses which are not a direct response, but are based on the combination of opposing content.
Note: The term can be derived from Ancient Greek (ἀντί, anti ~ gegen; θέσις, thésis ~ claim). The translation reveals what the style-figure has in itself.
Antithesis as counter-assertion
If we understand an antithetical structure as a simple counter-assertion, we are usually dealing with a response to a proposition or assertion (thesis).
“The car that parked here was orange.”
“The car was not orange. The car was blue. ”
“I’m sure the oxymoron is a fly-fly.”
“No. The oxymoron is a rhetorical style figure. ”
Both examples are basically reciprocal responses to claims. In the first sentence, a speaker states that the car was orange. This is followed immediately by the antithetical answer that this is not true, since the car was blue. The second example follows the same pattern.
The examples illustrate what we mean by the style-figure when we look at it from the point of view of educational-language: a contradiction to a previously presented thesis. Antithesis aims at disproving the content of what has been said with a counter-claim.
Antithesis as stylistic means
In the literature, however, there are also antithetical structures, which still take the concept a little further. Here, opposing concepts and thoughts are combined.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
The above quotation comes from the Bible (New Testament: Gospel according to Matthew) and illustrates the principle of the stylistic figure. Two statements are combined, which are opposed to each other. Such a contrast can be accomplished on several levels. Here, on the one hand, flesh and spirit are opposed, and on the other the adjectives are weak and willing.
It is important, however, that the literature does not always stand directly against each other. Often, they are opposing terms or content that are linked antithetically.
Antithesis and oxymoron
For students, it is often difficult to distinguish the antithesis from the oxymoron. After all, the two stylistic figures are very similar. However, there is a difference.
The oxymoron combines only two concepts, which usually follow one another directly. In contrast, the antithesis presents whole contents, sentences or even pairs of words and is not limited to two separate terms. (→ oxymoron)
I sleep the day, in the night I wake.
This is an open secret.
This means that each oxymoron is an antithesis, because two opposing words are always combined which contradict each other. However, not every antithesis is an oxymoron, since it can also include several terms, word sequences or sections.
Examples of antithesis
To show you the difference in other examples, we have put together a small selection to illustrate the styling.
Example: antithetical chiasmus
The bet was great, small was the win.
Here two statements are combined which combine a contradictory adjective. Thus, the concepts are small and large. Furthermore, there is a chiasm, that is, a cross-section of the members, which can further support the effect of the antithesis.
2nd example: antithetical parallelism
Today we are still alive. Tomorrow we will die.
Frequently we support the antithesis by a parallelism, as in the above example theorem. This means that the linked sentences are the same and in terms of their content as a result of their content. This can reinforce the statement.
Example 3: Antithesis as chiasmus
Oh God! The art is long,
And briefly is our life.
These two verses are taken from Goethe’s Faust and are, however, antithetically constructed, since the statements are interrelated. There is also a chiasmus here, since both verses have a cross-section of the sentence members.
4. Example: baroque poem based on antithetics
Happiness is a circulating wheel;
What now stands up, now down below.
Now there is something, soon it takes again