Non sequitur


Non sequitur, in common conversations and literary works, implies a phrase, a sentence, or a whole text segment, which doesn’t have a logical connection with the previous part of the text or conversation. This term is also prevalent in logic and means a logical fallacy, illogical conclusions or statements. In the majority of cases, regardless whether it’s a literary work or an ordinary conversation, non sequiturs appear somewhat absurd, which narrows their usage possibilities.

The phrase derives from the word “sequi” meaning “to follow”, accompanied by the part “non”, which together can be translated as “it doesn’t follow”. The term was used in logic first and identified a conclusion, which wasn’t linked to the previous statements leading to it. In the 16th century, the term was introduced into English.

Because the non sequitur utterances can sound rather controversial, some people confuse them with paradox. While non sequitur implies a logical fallacy, meaning that the second part of the text or conversation isn’t logically connected with the first part, paradox means putting two (or more) contradictory and opposite objects and ideas in close proximity to each other. This allows paradoxes to convey a certain (oftentimes significant) hidden meaning, which can be revealed after giving it some thought. Non sequitur, however, doesn’t imply any deep meaning. So, though non sequiturs do sound paradoxical, these two terms are unrelated and belong to different kinds of literary tools.

When non sequitur is used deliberately in a literary piece, there can be a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, non sequiturs are able to create a comical effect. Because they sound rather out of place, they can be implemented in comedic literary works to simply make a joke. When this literary tool is being used too often, this style is called “absurd humor”. Oftentimes, authors have to be careful with this linguistic technique. When used too frequently or improperly, non sequiturs can only confuse the reader and not convey that comical effect. 

Non sequitur can be applied when the author needs to illustrate the relationship between two characters, especially when one of them is acting contemptuous or doesn’t pay enough attention to the other one. By using this linguistic technique, the writer can depict the character being dismissive without providing a specific context or explaining the behavior of the hero. 

While non sequitur oftentimes plays a comical role, it can also be used with a more dramatic purpose. Some authors implement this linguistic tool when they need to illustrate a person who is suffering from a mental disease. Additionally, when a character is experiencing the mind alteration due to the grief or some other extreme mental changes and anxieties, non sequitur can be used to illustrate how their mind and language can be affected by such conditions. 

Non sequitur utterances are prevalent in the works that belong to the Theatre of the Absurd, a literary movement that appeared after the WW II and had a goal to show the absurdness and purposelessness of the human existence. Because non sequitur is able to create that unreasonable and out-of-place atmosphere, it became a notable part of this type of literary pieces. The movement also illustrated the communication breakdown between people, which could also be done by using non sequitur. 
Despite the fact that non sequitur isn’t a universal tool, it can be found in many literary works. For instance, Shakespeare used non sequitur in one of his plays to illustrate the misunderstanding between two characters. When Hamlet calls Polonius “Jephthah”, he implies that the father is willing to sacrifice his daughter. However, Polonius misunderstands the reference and makes a non sequitur statement, believing that he was called this name because of his love for his daughter.

In “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, Carroll uses non sequitur utterances to create a comical effect and, at the same time, reveal the character’s peculiarities. The Hatter oftentimes talks nonsense and inserts non sequitur sentences into a conversation, which makes the reader laugh and also makes a hint about the character’s mental condition.

S. Beckett, being a bright representative of the “Theatre of the Absurd”, implemented non sequitur oftentimes, especially in his play called “Waiting for Godot”. The conversations between Vladimir and Estragon lack some logic and sound quite absurd, which confirms the work’s place in this literary movement.

Non sequiturs can appear in conventional conversations as well. When you don’t follow the conversation or don’t pay enough attention, you might express a non sequitur sentence, oftentimes without even realizing it at first. Some people use non sequiturs for a comical effect or to show their interlocutor that they are not actually interested in the conversation. This means that non sequitur in everyday conversations can serve as a humorous tool or as a rude communicative method. 

The Summary
Non sequitur can belong to both logic and literature. In logic, it implies a certain conclusion that doesn’t have any logical connection with the previous statements. In literary works, the term implies a similar sense. It signifies a phrase or a sentence, which is not linked logically to the previous segment of the text.

The term originates from Latin and can be translated as “it doesn’t follow”.  This linguistic tool isn’t too prevalent in literary works due to its limited usage options. It can be implemented when the author wants to create a comical effect, illustrate a character being inattentive or deliberately rude, or depict a person with a mental or emotional condition and affected speaking abilities.