Juxtaposition as a linguistic tool implies taking two (sometimes more) objects, ideas, characters, or phenomena and placing them next to each other in order to make a thorough comparison or contrast them. It can be used not only in literature but in rhetoric as well.

The term derives from the Latin “juxta” meaning “near”. Later, the French part “position” was added, and in approximately 1655-1665, the term came to use in English.

Given the fact that juxtaposition is a form of comparison, it oftentimes is confused with other literary tools that also imply any kind of contrast, such as antithesis, foil, and oxymoron.

Antithesis is a subtype of juxtaposition, a more specific way of its use. While antithesis implies contrasting two opposite objects or concepts, juxtaposition doesn’t necessarily fall under this rule - it can involve two things that are simply being compared, not presented as two opposites. Another way to figure out the difference between these two related terms is to look at their structure. Antithesis is a speech pattern, which implies using a certain sentence structure (parallel positioning). At the same time, juxtaposition can involve pretty much any linguistic structure and doesn’t require to be structured in a defined way.

Foil is another specific form of juxtaposition, which involves contrasting two different characters. Juxtaposition can be used to describe the author’s action of comparing and opposing two characters, but it can also involve many other aspects, such as feelings, events, places, ideas, etc. Foil, on the contrary, is limited to only considering the characters, not anything else.
Oxymoron, being a more precise and specific kind of juxtaposition, implies using two different words to illustrate a deeper meaning and a certain subtext. It is a speech pattern, which involves two objects that are always contradictory to each other, like sweet and sorrow. Juxtaposition is the actual process of opposing these two objects or ideas, so it has a broader sense than oxymoron. And it doesn’t even have to be used in order to add a subtext, reveal a hidden message, or add more artistry to the text (unlike oxymoron).

The function of juxtaposition in literary works is rather versatile. The most prevalent goal of using juxtaposition is to send a certain message and to state the argument that the author wants to communicate to the readers. Authors always have a certain goal in writing, and juxtapositions help them achieve that goal by presenting the characters more clearly, by comparing different objects and identifying their traits, and by pointing at the differences between two concepts.

Juxtapositions are oftentimes used in comical literary genres to add more wit and even absurdness to the story. By putting two absolutely different concepts or objects in close proximity to each other, the author can create a comic outcome or make the readers laugh at the irrationality of the situation.

A more classical use of juxtaposition involves contrasting some universal ideas like love and hatred, good and evil, anger and forgiveness, etc. This linguistic method has been prevalent in literature for hundreds of years as it allows to highlight certain concepts and helps the reader understand them better by opposing them. 

Using juxtapositions is an excellent way to highlight the traits of certain characters or objects since contrasting them can help the reader see the qualities one of them possesses and the other one lacks. They can be applied when a character needs to be revealed fully or a situation needs to be illustrated vividly. 

Juxtaposition can be implemented not only in texts but also in the titles. When used in book headings, juxtaposition helps authors create powerful titles, which are easier to remember and which can draw the reader’s attention. The classic example is “War and Peace”.

Because juxtaposition is such a versatile tool, which can take up many forms, there are numerous examples of it in literary works. In “A Tale of Two Cities”, Dickens uses juxtaposition plenty of times. He puts together wisdom and foolishness, belief and incredulity, light and darkness, hope and despair, and so on.

Shakespeare is known for using numerous literary tools, including juxtaposition. For instance, he juxtaposes Iago and Desdemona in “Othello”; Macbeth and his wife in “Macbeth”; Portia as a woman and as a man in “The Merchant of Venice”, etc.
It is possible to juxtapose not only characters and objects but also feelings and actions. For example, in “Crime and Punishment”, Dostoevsky juxtaposes the main character’s personal traits and his actions. While being portrayed as a good man with numerous positive qualities, Raskolnikov commits a murder, which creates a contrast and a certain contradiction between his actions and features of his character.

The Summary

Juxtaposition, being a prevalent literary tool in many works, involves placing two (or more) objects, characters, ideas, or phenomena in close proximity in order to compare them. It derives from the old Latin term “juxta”, which can be translated as “near”. The term was first mentioned in English somewhere around 1655-1665, after merging with the French “position”.
This linguistic tool can be implemented with numerous purposes. It helps the authors reveal the true nature of the characters, deliver a certain message, create a captioning title, or add more complexity to the text’s style. Juxtaposition also serves to highlight certain traits when we are talking about characters, events, places, or ideas. It’s a powerful tool for adding certain subtext to the narrative and implying a hidden truth or an argument in the story.