First, allow me a disclaimer by saying that although these words have some similarities, they’re really not connected all that much. I clumped them together because I wanted to and for no other real reason.
Let’s start with Antithesis, which can be defined as a person or thing that is the direct opposite of someone or something else. It is often used to emphasize an idea through the perceived analogy and draw the attentions of readers.
Here are some examples:
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Muhammad Ali
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“HAMLET: To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them?” William Shakespeare
And one I use in class every semester:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” Charles Dickens.
Each of these quotes is meant to highlight something specific about the topic in which they focus. Space travel indicates monumental progress for mankind, even if only a few men got to step foot on the moon. Boxing is a mix of peaceful floating—or dodging—and aggressive stinging—punching. We have to put aside petty differences and act like a family, even if dysfunctional, or the constant fighting will ruin us all. Life is struggle and death is peace, but if we choose peace, we choose nothingness. And turmoil amongst the French Revolution, accentuating the division and confusion of the people in that era.
Much like paradox, antithesis relies on juxtaposition to emphasize key qualities that are similar amongst the opposition. The parallel structure of antithesis sharpens the meaning that comes with specific combinations, as the repetition makes the contrast clarifies the intended message, which is not to say that it must ALWAYS be parallel, but it aids in the overall understanding. In fact, antithesis seems to be built around the “or” construction.
To sum up, we use antithesis for several purposes: to present a stark difference between two options, to express the magnitude of range, to express strong emotions, to create a conflicting relationship between two ideas, and to accentuate the features of one thing by placing in opposition to another.
I don’t think I’ve ever used it purposefully or not, but I’m sure going to be more aware of the option as I draft.
Now, anticlimax creates a disappointing end or conclusion to an exciting or impressive series of events. It often does not meet the expectations that the narrative has built, and the error occurs because the solution to a problem is so trivial or comes without the protagonist using any of their skills, like using a deus ex machina. Essentially, the anticlimax is not nearly as good or brilliant as the rest of the movie. This is not a plot twist but an obvious ending, an unrelated ending, or one that leaves the reader hanging.
Here is examples of an anticlimactic ending from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:
“I spread out my fingers, and the dark berries glisten in the sun. I give Peeta’s hand one last squeeze as a signal, as a good-bye, and we begin counting. “One.” Maybe I’m wrong. “Two.” Maybe they don’t care if we both die. “Three!” It’s too late to change my mind. I lift my hand to my mouth, taking one last look at the world. The berries have just passed my lips when the trumpets begin to blare.”
What an excellent example of deus ex machina, although we see Katniss use her skilled logic to understand that either way, she’s defeated the system by not allowing a single winner. She probes us for an emotional ending. No survivors means usurping the hope it’s meant to create for the people via the lack of a real war, but two survivors provides too much hope and more drama for the society and the capitol. This, of course, was done on purpose to create a cliffhanger that sets up the rest of the trilogy.
Another example is the ending of Signs in which touching water kills the aliens that came to take over Earth. For the fate of the world, this seems like such a simple solution that garners a bit of a flat response because no real intervention was needed; however, for the characters of focus in the narrative, this has been set up nicely, and therefore, has a satisfying ending for them.
Also, anticlimax can be used as a figure of speech when it appears somewhere else in the story. These are statements that gradually descend in order of importance, arranging a series of words, phrases, or clauses in order of decreasing importance. For example, he lost his family, his car, and his cell phone. Typically, we like to accentuate importance by putting the most important at the end of a sentence for effect, but here, we begin with the emotional impact—his family—something that he cannot replace, and we leave with an object of little value that is easily replaceable, his cell phone. Although, I’m sure a great many young adults would argue its lack of importance if they could. Overall, this creates a humorous effect and produces great surprise, but readers may see it as an error unless the author intentionally meant to produce ridiculousness.
Here are a few more examples of anticlimactic figures of speech:
“In moments of crisis, I size up the situation in a flash, set my teeth, contract my muscles, take a firm grip on myself, and without tremor, always do the wrong thing.” George Bernard Shaw
“He has seen the ravages of war, he has known natural catastrophes, he has been to singles bars.” Woody Allen.
The buildup and the payoff here do not correlate well, but they do create humorous and unreliable characters.
This one is a tool I use loosely—more so in THE GIRL WITH THE GLOWING HAIR when I’ve utilized a dues ex machina, but the character planned it. Does that make any sense? In the BLOOD PHOENIX saga, I also tend to have anticlimactic fights between Ria and Gene that always devolves into her and my coffee obsession.
Are you familiar with these rhetorical tools? Do you utilize them in your writing? Tell me how in the comments below!