Word of the Week: Juxtaposition

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, juxtaposition is a noun meaning, “the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect,” (Merriam Webster).

As a literary device, juxtaposition is, “literary technique in which two or more ideas, places, characters, and their actions are placed side by side in a narrative or a poem, for the purpose of developing comparisons and contrasts,” (Literary Devices).

Basically, a juxtaposition is a hypothetical situation and/or conversation between two or more people/things as a way to compare and contrast them from each other.

Juxtaposition stems from the Latin word juxta which means “next”, and the French word poser which means “place”. These two words combined create juxtaposer which is later translated into Middle English (around 19th century) as juxtaposition.

Other words include juxtapose (verb) and juxtapositional (adjective).

An example of a juxtaposition in literature is Dudley Randall’s poem “Booker T. and W.E.B“. The poem is about an imaginary conversation between two famous figures in African American history and civil rights, Booker T. Washington and William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (W.E.B). These two activists shared different views and beliefs pertaining to civil rights, hence Dudley Randall sought to create an interesting imaginary dialogue with the two through the means of poetry.

Randall’s way of showcasing these two figure’s drastically different beliefs and approaches to Civil Rights can be found through Randall’s imaginary interpretation of conversation between the two, such as stanzas three and four reading:

“It seems to me,” said Booker T.,
“That all you folks have missed the boat
Who shout about the right to vote,
And spend vain days and sleepless nights
In uproar over civil rights.
Just keep your mouths shut, do not grouse,
But work, and save, and buy a house.”

“I don’t agree,” said W.E.B.,
“For what can property avail
If dignity and justice fail.
Unless you help to make the laws,
They’ll steal your house with trumped-up clause.
A rope’s as tight, a fire as hot,
No matter how much cash you’ve got.
Speak soft, and try your little plan,
But as for me, I’ll be a man.”

Booker T. and W.E.B” from the Poetry Foundation

Megan Jenkins, Alpha Chi Tau’s 2019-2020 Vice President, wrote about Randall’s juxtapositional poem, along with other poems, in a post for the Library of Congress’ Poetry and Literature Center’s From the Catbird Seat blog. The full article, along with the audio recording of Dudley Randall reading “Booker T. and W.E.B” (timestamp 4:03 mins. in recording) can be found here.

Do you know any poems similar to Dudley Randall’s “Booker T. and W.E.B”? Comment below!

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