1. What is it?

Chiasmus is a statement or question formed by reversing the parts of a sentence.

It is most often used in speeches.

2. Why use it?

Make a sentence more interesting and memorable.Highlight a point through the use of memorable, stylish syntax.

3. Examples

Looking at the two burgers on his plate, and the two fat hams that he had for hands, she felt a wave of nauseous disgust.
“One should eat to live, not live to eat”, she told him, but he wasn’t listening. Soon enough half of the first patty was gone, and a disgusting rim of barbecue sauce rested around his mouth.

The golden leaves of the autumnal foliage glistened in the sunlight. In the distance a slight chittering, and the chatter of a stream rolling over the larger pebbles. This was the sort of scene, clichéd but wonderful, for which he had moved to the shire, a land of honey where peace was beauty, and beauty was peace.

4. Examples in literature

The Joker 
by Thomas Mann

Know Your Book

Title: Der Bajazzo (*trans: The Joker; or The Clown)
Author: Thomas Mann (1875-1955)
Published: 1897
Language: German
Genre: Fiction; short story; existentialism
Plot: Financially supported by family and then an inheritance, a man spends his days on artistic pursuits. However, he lacks talent and self-confidence, and concludes his life is merely wasting time. Recognising that he is lonely, the man becomes enamoured with a woman he sees, yet does not speak to her. In melancholia, he considers whether suicide is too heroic for him because he is such a useless individual.
Setting: A German town
Characters: Narrator; his father; his mother; Anna Rainer

Excerpt from Chapter 10 (translated from German):

On careful reflection I feel bound to admit that there must be a distinction (sophistical and absurd though it seems) between internal and external happiness. “External happiness”! What in fact is it? There is a certain class of human beings who seem to be the favourites of the gods, whose good fortune is their genius and whose genius is their good fortune: they are the children of light, and with the sun’s radiance mirrored in their eyes they move lightly, gracefully, charmingly, playfully through life, admiringly surrounded by everyone, praised and envied and loved by everyone, because even envy cannot bring itself to hate them. But they return the general gaze as rather spoiled children do, with a kind of whimsical irreverent mockery and unclouded goodwill, secure in their good fortune and in their genius, never for a moment entertaining the thought that things might be otherwise…

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. In brief, what is the passage discussing?
2. What is ‘their good fortune’?
3. How many different types of punctuation does the writer use in this paragraph? 
Identifying Techniques

4. What narrative voice is used in The Joker?
5. The passage uses consonance and assonance to help create a rhythm. Underline examples.
6. Highlight the use of chiasmus in the passage. 
Text Analysis

7. The writer suggests a conflict at the heart of ‘external’ happiness. What is it?
8. Why does the author use the phrase ‘even envy cannot bring itself to hate them’? What is this suggesting? Considering the sentence that follows, why is this phrase used where it is?
9. How does the writer suggest a lack of gratefulness or reciprocated appreciation, as well as arrogance, from those born fortunate?
10. The theme of light is referred to in the passage. To what is ‘light’ alluding? 
Provoking Opinion

11. Do you agree with the notion that there is a separate external and internal happiness? Why or why not?
12. What do think the writer’s attitude is towards people born of ‘good fortune’?
13. The passage suggests that some people are ‘the favourites of the gods’. Do you agree with the idea of certain people being born with advantages? If so, can those without such advantages overcome the deficit?
14. The Joker describes an individual whose life is so easy as to become aimless and, ultimately, the source of depression. Do you feel people must have purpose to be happy? If so, what purpose?

The Importance of Being Earnest 
by Oscar Wilde

Know Your Book

Title: The Importance of Being Earnest
Author: Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Published: 1895
Language: English
Genre: Drama; play; comedy; farce
Plot: Ernest plans to propose to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen, but first tells Algernon about the double life he leads: under the name ‘Jack’, Ernest is ward to Cecily, and uses a fake relative named Ernest as an excuse to visit London. Unbeknown to Ernest, Algernon is dating Cecily, using the name Ernest. When Gwendolen and Cecily meet, both set to marry ‘Ernest’, matters become very confused.
Setting: Victorian London; Woolton
Characters: Jack; Algernon; Lady Bracknell; Gwendolen; Cecily

Excerpt from Act I:

Jack: I have lost both my parents.
Lady Bracknell: Both? To lose one parent may be regarded as misfortune — to lose both seems like carelessness. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he born in what the radical papers call the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of aristocracy?
Jack: I’m afraid I really don’t know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me…I don’t actually know who I am by birth. I was…well, I was found.
Lady Bracknell: Found!
Jack: The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.
Lady Bracknell: Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?
Jack [gravely]: In a handbag.

1. Based on the set up in this passage, which of the following plot developments seems most likely?

a) Lady Bracknell and Jack begin a relationship
b) Jack’s real identity is discovered
c) Mr. Thomas Cardew returns to find Jack
d) Jack finds a baby in a handbag
e) Lady Bracknell dies

2. The passage suggests that The Importance of Being Earnest is a

a) tragedy
b) satire
c) drama
d) comic farce
e) romance

3. What is the relevance of the town of Worthing to the scene?

a) Jack was born there
b) Jack is named after it
c) Jack was abandoned there
d) Lady Bracknell believes Jack’s family is there
e) Jack has a ticket to go there

4. ‘I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me.’ This line makes use of

a) epithet
b) oxymoron
c) anthropomorphism
d) analogy
e) chiasmus

5. Which of the following is shared by both the passages from The Joker and The Importance of Being Earnest?

a) A character feels a sense of disconnect
b) A protagonist expresses bitterness at those with money
c) The stage is prepared for conflict
d) A backstory is questioned by a second character
e) The writer aims for an amiable amusing tone


5. Tasks

Task 1: Create a simple adage about an element of life using chiasmus.
Task 2: Write a poem or a paragraph in which chiasmus appears.