Epiphany is a term, which can relate to a couple of things that belong to the unrelated phenomena. In the most common sense, Epiphany (in this case, always capitalized) is a religious event, a festival dedicated to the celebration of Christ’s first manifestation to the Gentiles. According to the Eastern Church, this holiday can also represent the celebration of Christ’s baptism.
As a literary tool, epiphany implies a moment of a flesh-like realization, a sudden recognition, or a revelation that defines a new prospect and helps the author and the reader clarify a certain situation or an issue presented in the literary work. Epiphany isn’t always just a character’s experience. Oftentimes, it occurs in the narrative, allowing the reader to feel the epiphany themselves.
The use of the term dates back to the 14th century. It derives from the Late Greek “epiphainein”, which means “to manifest”, “to reveal”, “to show”. The original use of this term belonged to the religious sphere of life. It was used to describe the manifestation of a divine object or to present some new insights from a godly creature. This shows that the historical sense of epiphany is closely connected to its definition as a linguistic tool as it serves to illustrate new feelings and the revelation of the previously unknown or unnoticed truth.
In literature, epiphany might be confused with a related term – anagnorisis. While they both represent the moment of awareness, anagnorisis depicts a dramatic or a tragic element in darker stories, while epiphany can serve for an inspirational, uplifting, or even a comedic effect. Furthermore, anagnorisis is usually achieved by the accumulation of bits of information that are revealed gradually, along the way the plot goes. Unlike anagnorisis, epiphany is a sudden experience, which doesn’t have to be connected to the previous bits of the plot as it happens unexpectedly and doesn’t usually give any warning signs in advance.
Epiphanies are prevalent in literary works, especially in certain genres. For example, mystery novels often feature epiphany moments to put together all of the hints and solve the puzzle of the book.
It is common for writers to employ epiphany at turning points of the story. This way, the author marks the climax of the text and presents the logical conclusion of the narrative.
Many authors use epiphany to present some radical changes in the character, show the growth of the hero, and present the development of the character’s feelings.
Epiphany is an excellent tool, which allows the writer to describe ordinary events with a philosophical insight. It’s a popular practice to add some spirituality to the regular, real-life moments using epiphany. This makes the story more compelling to the reader and more exciting.
Epiphanies also come in handy when the author needs to create an inspiring moment, which is able to give hope to the reader. By turning typical, everyday situations into a moment of clear realization, the author allows the reader to feel like everyone is able to see some things in a new light, find a new meaning of life, and even redeem yourself. It’s a powerful tool, which creates that cheering and encouraging moment.
The term epiphany also serves to describe the author’s personal revelations during the creating process. When the author doesn’t know how to end the book, and then suddenly an idea appears, many creative people call this situation an “epiphany”. This experience can be compared to being inspired by a “muse”, which is also a common word used by many writers.
Epiphany can be implemented in pretty much any literary style and genre. It can be noticed in poetry, plays, novels, and other types of prose and poetry works. One of the great examples is presented in the literary piece “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Almost at the end of the story, Scout is being struck by a revelation. She learns the lesson, which Atticus was trying to communicate to her from the very beginning of the book. The verity she realizes is the ability to understand a person only by putting yourself in their place, “stand in their shoes”.
Another epiphany example belongs to Charles Dickens and his character Pip. When Pip learns the truth about his benefactor, he experiences the epiphany, and his whole world changes for him. In this case, epiphany serves as a perfect way to add a more dramatic turn to the plot and illustrate the character’s development, the change in his feelings and the way he perceives everything around him.
As it was mentioned above, epiphany can be implemented in poetry works as well. One of the brightest examples is the moment when Othello realizes that his wife was innocent after murdering her. Shakespeare masterfully uses epiphany to emphasize the character’s feelings and to make the situation more tragic. Because the realization comes too late, epiphany here serves to stir the reader’s feelings and to show the unbearable moral struggle of the main character.
Epiphanies (the actual term, not a linguistic device) are often connected to scientific breakthroughs and can imply the discovery of something new. For example, the tale of the Archimedes and his famous “Eureka” is often described as an epiphany to show the sudden realization and significance of that moment.