As an English teacher for 17 years now, I delight in teaching vocabulary words and literary concepts that have real applications to our daily lives. One of my favorite such terms is “Juxtaposition.” Let me teach it to you via a trip around the world!
Juxtaposition Definition & Synonym
The easiest way to define the noun “juxtaposition” is: CONTRAST. More specifically, juxtaposition is when two very different things are put right next to each other, causing an impact for the viewer, reader, or listener. In the photo example above (taken near Fallingwater in Pennsylvania), the juxtaposition of my magenta outfit against the green background draws your eye.
The word “juxtaposition” is derived from the Latin root iuxta, meaning “close to” or “beside” and the French position: placing. Yes indeed, the word is all about placing two contrasting things next to each other!
A simple synonym for the verb “to juxtapose” would be “to contrast.” A more detailed translation would be: “to put something next to another thing which causes the people looking to notice striking differences.” In the example below, I purposely staged this “influencer photo” to juxtapose my friend Savannah’s formal suit with the ridiculous yellow bathroom context.
To Juxtapose, You Need Similarities, Too
Here is where things get tricky. In order for juxtaposition to have its contrasting effect work — highlighting the differences between the two things — there actually need to be some basic similarities so the viewer knows to compare them.
Here’s an example. In the photo below, I’ve juxtaposed my elegant spouse’s human profile with the fuzzy face of a cute llama! Now, the similarity here — the fact that both are face profiles — is essential for the contrast to pop out and make the reader laugh, “Hey, it’s funny to compare that guy’s expression to the llama’s!”
See how the similarity (faces) makes the contrast and thus juxtaposition possible? If my illustrious husband were just standing next to a pile of pears, there would be no pull to compare any parts of the photo, and thus no contrast or juxtaposition.
Types of Juxtaposition
You’d be shocked to realize the number of things that can be juxtaposed! Wherever you can create contrast, therein lurks juxtaposition. Check out this photo from my time teaching in Ghana in West Africa, where the sun was huge and bright. See how the brightness is juxtaposed juicily with our dark shadows? Such a cool effect.
There are several other juxtaposed elements in that Ghana picture as well. (Yes, this is the beach near where the billboard of me shockingly appeared!) There is a juxtaposition of shape, as the roundness of the sun contrasts with the tall lines of our silhouettes. There is also a texture juxtaposition between the rough sand and the smooth sun.
Juxtaposition in Literature
Juxtaposing is not just for the visual realm — it can also be used in situations and descriptions in writing. For example, the actions of an extremely hyper character in a book can be juxtaposed with a chilled-out character. (An extreme version of this is called a “foil.”)
In literature, speeches, songs, and sayings, any passage that compares two things that have a base similarity in order to contrast their differences is an example juxtaposition. This list contains some common examples, including the adage, “All’s fair in love and war,” which juxtaposes the two states of society.
Now, let’s begin our journey around the world to explore the many forms of juxtaposition that exist. Being able to spot them will enhance your appreciation of your surroundings — and can also improve our photography and art!
Juxtapose for Better Photos and Art
Can you see from this wide-ranging list of photography examples how juxtaposition helps improve photography and visual art? It does the same for spicing up text, speech, poetry, and literature — and even everyday life! I hope you see now why this literary concept is one of my favorites.
Juxtaposition in Sum
Did you enjoy this journey of juxtaposition around the world? What were your favorite photos and realizations? Do you still have remaining questions about this fascinating word? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!