1. What is it?

Oxymorons are descriptions that combine two words that are completely opposite.

Literary paradoxes are groups of sentences or phrases that contain contradictions that appear to defy logic but suggest great depth, truth and wisdom.

Some oxymorons have become part of everyday speech.

Because oxymorons can be quite poetic they appear works in which literary style is important.

2. Why use it?

Describe objects or actions that appear to have a contradiction within them and yet exist.Add flamboyant or poetic language to a description.
Suggest a second layer of philosophical depth by showing contradiction and juxtaposition.

3. Examples

“What we have here is a minor crisis.”

The affair between the two had become an open secret.

It was a hateful love that Beatrice had for Henry. She did not want to care for him – indeed, she wished misfortune upon him – but nonetheless her life was built around him.

She was a woman with a cruel kindness, who gave generously but simultaneously looked directly into the receiver’s soul and declared ‘I am more than you shall ever be’. For anyone in the office, the arrival of a gift from Ms Bella was as much a punishment and belittlement as a catalyst for joy. What miserable celebration she brought, like Death wearing a bright suit and trying to fit in.

4. Examples in literature

Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu

Know Your Book

Title: 道德经 (*trans: Tao Te Ching)
Author: 老子 (Lao Tzu) (6th or 4th century BC)
Published: From the 4th century BC
Language: Chinese
Genre: Philosophy; religious philosophy
Synopsis: Comprised of 81 short philosophical ideas or statements, the Tao Te Ching is a guide to leading a spiritually peaceful, compassionate and fulfilling life. Most of the advice involves learning to understand one’s self, being aware, and practicing ‘not doing’ so that a person fits with the world around them. This allows one to experience ‘tao’ (‘the way’), a harmonious co-existence with all life and objects in which humility, spontaneity, and generosity govern existence.

Book 66 (translated from Chinese):

The river and the sea can be kings of a hundred valleys,
Because they lie below them.
That is why they can be the kings of a hundred valleys.

If the sage wants to stand above people,
He must speak to them from below.
If he wants to lead people,
He must follow them from behind.

When the sage stands above people,
They are not oppressed.
When he leads people,
They are not obstructed.
The world will exalt him
And not grow tired of him.

Because he does not resist,
None in the world resists him.

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. What similarity is there between a river and a sage, according to the passage?
2. Based on the text, what overriding quality must a sage have?
3. Why would the world not resist a sage if he follows these ideas? 
Identifying Techniques

4. What oxymorons or paradoxes are used in the passage?
5. What structures are repeated in the passage? Underline the repeated structures.
6. What type of persuasion technique is used? Ethos, logos, or pathos? 
Text Analysis

7. What is the purpose of using the word ‘therefore’?
8. What difference is there between the advice in the second paragraph and that given in the third?
9. How do the paragraphs change in length? How does this affect the passage’s rhythm?
10. Compare the first paragraph to the final paragraph. Are there any similarities? 
Provoking Opinion

11. Do you agree with the advice given in the passage? How do you think strength and power are achieved?
12. Why do you think Lao Tzu initially connects strength to nature?
13. Do you feel that oxymorons and paradoxes can produce profound ideas?

Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare

Know Your Book

Title: Romeo and Juliet
Author: William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Published: 1597
Language: English
Genre: Fiction; play; tragedy
Plot: The Montague and Capulet families are bitter enemies. When Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet fall in love, the families’ argument grows, with fatal results. An incident between quarrelling youths sees two people dead and Romeo banished. Determined to be together, but trying to avoid their warring families, the lovers’ devise a tragic plan.
Setting: Verona
Characters: Romeo Montague; Juliet Capulet; Mercutio; Tybalt

Excerpt from Act I, Scene I:

Benvolio: Alas that love, so gentle in his view,
Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!
Romeo: Alas that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should, without eyes, see pathways to his will!
Where shall we dine? O me! What fray was here?
Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all:
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
Dost thou not laugh?
Benvolio: No, coz, I rather weep.

1. Romeo expresses the conflict at the centre of his love using

a) euphemisms
b) sarcasm
c) analogy
d) anthropomorphism
e) oxymorons

2. Benvolio’s attitude towards Romeo’s problem is

a) angry
b) sympathetic
c) confused
d) bored
e) demeaning

3. Which of the following techniques is not used in this scene?

a) Simile
b) Rhyme
c) Rhetorical question
d) Chiasmus
e) Parallelism

4. ‘Dost thou not laugh?’: this question expresses

a) Romeo’s belief his situation is tragic
b) Benvolio’s sympathy for Romeo
c) Romeo’s hope to lighten the mood
d) Benvolio’s anger with Romeo
e) Romeo’s own idea that his love-life is comical

5. The purpose of this scene is to create

a) comedy
b) pathos
c) logos
d) romance
e) alienation


5. Tasks

Task 1: Think of 3 examples of oxymorons that could be used in everyday life or everyday speech.
Task 2: Create a scene in which oxymorons are repeatedly used.