Apostrophe, which is most prevalently perceived as a punctuation mark, has a different meaning as a literary tool. In pieces of literature, apostrophe defines a linguistic device, which involves the author or the speaker breaking off from speaking directly to one party (for instance, the audience during the play) and starting to alternatively direct his or her words to a third party. The addressee is oftentimes presented in the form of a nonliving object (which usually gets personified), an abstract concept, or a notional idea. This linguistic tool is prevalent in plays and poetry but can be found in some prose pieces of literature as well.
The term derives from the word “apostrophos” (Greek), which translates as “a mark of turning away.” It first appeared in English somewhere around 1525-1535 and was originally employed to define a punctuation sign.
The implementation of the apostrophe as a linguistic tool is oftentimes connected with (or even depend on) personification. Because the addressee may be presented as an abstract notion or an object, the authors oftentimes impart human features to those objects, thus employing personification.
Authors implement apostrophes in their works for a number of reasons. For instance, apostrophes serve to create a dramatic effect. This literary tool allows the characters to convey sincere emotions and feelings, add their own personal commentaries, or show strong and deep emotions not directly to the spectators but to the third party, making the scene more dramatic.
Another reason to implement apostrophe is when the author wishes to highlight the significance of the third party, which the hero or the speaker is addressing. For instance, when the main hero starts appealing to death, its role in the literary piece becomes accentuated. This also helps the author deliver a certain message more effectively and in a more artistic way.
Apostrophes are also able to help the authors make the scene more poetic. When the hero of the narrative speaks to an abstractive third party, this creates a special artistic imagery in the reader’s mind. Thus, the literary piece becomes more affecting and even somewhat exalted.
Apostrophes allow the author to represent the hero’s inner state more deeply and vividly. When addressing the abstractive third party, the hero of the narration provides an insight into his or her thoughts without talking directly to the spectator or the reader. This allows the hero to express his or her inner experiences more freely and in more depth, sound more genuine, and establish a stronger bond with the audience. This also helps the audience feel more empathetic about the hero.
Numerous apostrophe examples can be found in pieces of literature. The most famous one belongs to the work of Shakespeare called “Hamlet.” When the hero addresses the skull of his friend, Yorick, he adds more dramatism to the scene. In addition, the author here makes the hero contemplate the eternal concepts of death and life, thus making a stronger impact on the reader.
J. Dunne, in his work called “Holy Sonnet 10”, implements apostrophe to address the concept of death. Here, apostrophe serves as a method to express the author’s personal feelings and beliefs. While death is usually perceived with awe and fear, the author speaks to it telling death that it’s not worth being afraid of and has got nothing to feel proud about. By addressing this abstract concept instead of directly talking to the reader, the author creates a dramatic effect and delivers the message in a more artistic way.
Despite being prevalent in poetical pieces and plays, apostrophes can be found in some masterful examples of prose as well. For instance, in one of her works called “The Waves,” V. Woolf implemented apostrophe as a part of the hero’s stream of consciousness. The hero (named Rhoda) addresses all human beings in general, crying out about their cruelness and her own misery. This helps the author illustrate the hero’s inner state in a very dramatic and genuine manner, thus creating a deeper emotional bond with the reader and making them feel more sympathetic about the hero of the narration.
Another apostrophe example lies in one of Shakespeare’s works “Romeo and Juliet.” Here, the main heroine appeals to the dagger as if it was a living thing. After she awakens and finds her loved one dead, the heroine speaks to the dagger, which allows the reader to contemplate her despair and the tragedy of the situation. Despite being quite short, this scene with the apostrophe in it makes a strong impact on the audience.