Paradox is a literary device that surprises/delights the reader or makes the reader think over an idea in an innovative way by putting two seemingly self-contradictory ideas together.
Here’s a real-life paradox, replayed. I was walking home one night when I overheard a conversation between a boy and a girl. This is likely their first date, you know, those awkward I-am-getting-to-know-you questions and overly enthusiastic responses.
“Are you a working journalist?” the girl asked.
“No, I am a master student studying 20th century American literature,” he replied.
“That’s awesome!” she exclaimed.
Translation: “Hi, I am a master student studying 20th century American literature and I have no job prospect whatsoever!” I doubt the awesomeness.
I slowed my pace. Walking roughly two steps to the right and three steps ahead of them. I was careful not to be in their immediate peripheral vision but also close enough so I could continue my eavesdropping.
The boy attempted to explain to the girl his area of study, which consists primarily of short stories. He asked, “Do you know of a famous short story that came out last year called ‘Redeployment’? Have you read it?”
Yes I did not read it!
WTF?! A snide laugh escaped from my lips. I hurried forward as her flustered voice trailed behind, explaining, “Oh, I mean, I did not know about the book at all, and you know, like…”
That, my friend, is paradox. The term came from the Greek work paradoxon, which means contrary to expectations, existing belief or perceived opinion. Popular paradox examples in literature include George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm:
All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others
On the surface, the statement does not make sense. The very nature of the definition of equality — equal in status, rights and opportunities, should be the same for everyone. But upon further contemplation of the farm’s cardinal rule, the statement points to a very real political truth.
And also Shakespeare’s play, “As you like it”:
The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
How can a fool be wise and a wise man a fool? But if you think about it, those who are searching for knowledge know that the quest is continuous. “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know,” according to Albert Einstein.
But back to the date. The girl, in my opinion, deployed brilliant paradox. From her tone (eager) to her volume (loud), I expected her to say that she had read the book and it was amazing and [blah blah blah]. But instead, she defied presumption with a “Yes I did not.” Ha, she may be on route to snatching the literary boy’s heart.
And you know what, next time my editor ask me if I wrote my story, I’ll reply (with all due respect) “Yes, I have not written it!”