Paradox in Writing (Definition, How To Write + Examples)

Tomas Laurinavicius
Updated on April 11, 2024
Paradox in Writing (Definition, How To Write + Examples)

Paradoxes exist everywhere. In literature, movies, everyday speech, nature, and so on.

Literature and movies use paradox to create tension, suspense, and avoid mainstreaming the content.

Paradox in everyday conversation can be an indicator or lie detection, and paradoxes in nature occur all the time. Just look up interesting facts on nature!

What Is a Paradox?

Oxford English Dictionary provides a paradox definition as, “A statement or tenet contrary to received opinion or belief; often with the implication that it is marvellous or incredible; sometimes with unfavourable connotation, as being discordant with what is held to be established truth, and hence absurd or fantastic; sometimes with favourable connotation, as a correction of vulgar error.”

It’s an non-traditional method of delving into a deeper meaning of an idea. It shows two extreme sides of a concept and lets the reader understand things for themselves.

Logical Paradoxes and Literary Paradox

Logical paradox is the kind of paradox that defies chain of causality. Zeno of Elea, an ancient Greek philosopher is considered to have popularized many great logical paradox.

Literary paradox are ones that give rise to an inherent truth if read carefully, underneath its apparent contradictory ideas.

What Is an Example of Paradox in Writing?

Paradoxes can be found constantly in any written text. Literature makes heavy use of paradoxes to deal with complex topics like society, psychology, stigmas, love and sexuality. Science fiction writing uses time paradox for many of it’s plots.

Here is a list of books that uses paradox. But before that, let us look at what the paradox literary definition is.

The word ‘paradox’ is originally from a Greek root word called ‘paradoxons’ which means something is contrary to the expectations. In literary paradox, the contradiction is present with a hint of truth.

Paradox in Literature

Literature holds some of the most famous examples of paradox. It is often used as a literary device and falls under the category of literary terms. It may be confused with oxymoron, but the difference between them is that oxymoron puts two words, opposite in nature, one after another. It can be called a paradoxical juxtaposition.

Pop culture uses oxymoron for the purpose of sarcasm.

Example of oxymoron are, “sweet sorrow”, “cruel kindness”, “respectful whistle”, “truthful liar”, “complex simplicity”, “jumbo shrimp”, “small world war”, “open secret”, “walking dead”, deafening silence”, and so on.

Let us now look at a few examples of paradox in literature.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

The famous line from this book that is quoted everywhere, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”, is a perfect examples of paradox in literature.

The sentence does not make any logical sense but if one reads closely, they will understand that it means equality can often be illusory – no one in power, especially the government, wants everybody to be equal, and give up power.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Hamlet the character is inherently complicated. He is paradox personified! He speaks things like, “I must be cruel to be kind.”, or, “To be or not to be/ that is the question.” These lines are famous paradox in literature.

Killing Claudius was also a moral paradox for Hamlet (the character).

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

“I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time”, encompasses the paradox in this book. It does not make much sense and has apparent contradictions but, if one reads closely it will reveal a deeper meaning.

The father’s death calls for a spiritual thought that, since all human beings are supposed to die, and pay for their sins, one must live rightfully to have a better life after death.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll uses several paradox examples, and they are complex in nature. March Hare asks Alice in this book about more tea and Alice replies in paradoxical sentences. Alice says, “”I’ve had nothing yet, so I can’t take more.””

Holy Sonnets by John Donne

This poem is a classic example of a literary paradox. The poem writes, ‘Death, thou shalt die’ which on the surface gives off a grim vibe. Upon close reading it reveals a message of hope – heaven is inevitable upon death and in heaven one is no longer at the hands of imminent death.

Man and Superman by Bernard Shaw

Shaw expresses his condemn for conventions through his mouthpiece Jack Tanner in the play Man and Superman. He says, “The golden rule is that there are no golden rules”, meaning, if there are no hard and fast rules about life – one gets what one gives.

Movies that use Paradox

Science fiction movies mostly use time paradox in the plots.

Paradox in Speaking

We often end up using paradoxes while speaking and writing. A compulsive liar will speak in paradoxes, but there is only one catch – they will probably get convoluted in their own lies. Such paradoxes are superficial and are self contradictory. The way to spot them is to contradict.

Paradox may not just be factual, but also technical. There are many examples of technical paradox – something that cannot be proved on paper (yet), but still exists in real life. For example there are paradoxes in science and nature that cannot be theoretically solved – like quantum physics, black hole, or even time loop.

What Are Some Famous Examples of Paradox in a Sentence?

“Language… has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone,” (Tillich 1963).

“The swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot,” (Thoreau 1854).

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength,” (Orwell 1949).

“Paradoxically though it may seem .., it is none the less true that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” – Oscar Wilde

“Yes, I must confess. I often find myself more at home in these ancient volumes than I do in the hustle-bustle of the modern world. To me, paradoxically, the literature of the so-called ‘dead tongues’ holds more currency than this morning’s newspaper. In these books, in these volumes, there is the accumulated wisdom of mankind, which succors me when the day is hard and the night lonely and long,” (Hanks, The Ladykillers).

“What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young.” – George Bernard Shaw

“Men work together whether they work together or apart.” – Robert Frost

“By paradox we mean the truth inherent in a contradiction… [In the paradox] the two opposite cords of truth become entangled in an inextricable knot… [but it is] this knot which ties safely together the whole bundle of human life,” (Chesterton 1926).

“Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America—that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement,” (Wolfe 1934).

“The issue is neatly illustrated by Condorcet’s paradox, which shows that a shifting set of coalitions can make a collective body appear that it has no idea what it wants.” – The New York Times

It’s perhaps the game’s ultimate modern paradox: Why do we so often hear fans lobbying to see more attention paid to the sort of team-first, right-way-to-play, wildly successful organization that the Spurs have built, but then pay so little attention themselves when given the choice? – ABC News

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Why Is Paradox Used in Writing?

Paradox is used to trigger new thoughts and fresh ideas. It also forces the reader or viewer to think in unconventional ways, and the second order meaning is only grasped when read with carefulness.


Let us recap. Paradox is a statement that explains incongruities. There are two kinds of paradox: logical paradox and literary paradox.

There are famous paradoxes in literature and popular culture. It is a literary device used in creative content to provoke new ways of thinking and humor.

There is a difference between paradoxes and oxymoron. Paradox definition is “self contradictory” but not necessarily juxtaposed. Oxymoron used two words in juxtaposition for the effect: “silly logic.”

The reader is expected to have a rational mind and look beyond the printed words. Printed text can have absolute simplicity but may have a second order, or even a third order meaning.

“This sentence is false” is an example of paradox. Is this sentence true or false?

To identify a paradox is to read between the lines.

Tomas Laurinavicius

Hi! I'm Tomas. I'm a founder, marketer, designer, and blogger from Lithuania, now happily living in Alicante, Spain. I'm a marketing advisor at Devsolutely and a partner at Craftled, building Best Writing and Marketful.