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Difference Between Thesis and Antithesis

Thesis and antithesis are literary techniques used to make a point during a debate or a lecture or discourse about a topic.  The thesis is the theory or the definition of the point under discussion.  Antithesis is the exact opposite of the point made in the thesis.  Anti is a prefix meaning against.  The antithesis therefore goes against the thesis to create an opposition effect.  The antithesis creates a clash of ideas or opinions and is a rhetorical device used to sway the opinions of the reader.  The two opposite statements highlight a point in literature, politics and other forums of debate.  Hearing the two sides of an argument has to have more impact on the reader or listener.  The two opposing ideas make the writer’s point more definite and obvious.

Definition of  Thesis

The thesis is the beginning of the study or debate.  It is the introduction to the topic.  The thesis is the normal way of looking at the subject matter.  The thesis is the accepted way of thinking or viewing an issue to be discussed or written about.  It is often the theory that is presented by philosophers and usually believed by the majority.  A thesis can be used in a written document or as a speech.  The thesis study looks at the positive side of the topic to be presented or discussed.  The subject matter is usually what readers consider normal.  In a political context it may be what is seen as the status quo.  Not necessarily the right situation for the times politically, but what has been the norm, and what has been established before change must take place.

Definition of  Antithesis

The antithesis is the opposite or opposition to the thesis.  Anti being the prefix, and when it is added to thesis, spells antithesis.  Anti changes the meaning of the word thesis.  Opposition or an opposing statement or word, is the role that the antithesis plays.  The antithesis helps to bring out the reason behind a debate or an emotive statement.  Looking at the opposing theme and comparing the thesis and the antithesis highlights the mental picture through the anti aspect of the word antithesis.  For example, when Neil Armstrong told the world he had made one small step for man and a giant leap for mankind he used the normal step he took as the thesis, and used the antithesis as a giant leap to create the picture of how great this step was for mankind.  This created a memorable image, and shows the enormity of the first man walking on the moon.  Antithesis is a form of rhetoric and a useful way of persuading people and igniting emotional reactions.  Antithesis has been used by writers and politicians to stir emotions and bring home an important point.

What is the connection between Thesis, Antithesis and synthesis?

Thesis, together with antithesis results in a synthesis, according to philosopher Hegel.  Hegel’s dialectics is a philosophical method involving a contradictory series of events between opposing sides.  He describes the thesis as being the starting point, the antithesis is the reaction and the synthesis is the outcome from the reaction.  Karl Marx used this philosophy to explain how communism came about.  According to Marx’s theory:

The thesis was capitalism, the way Russia was run at the time.

The antithesis was the Proletariat, the industrial workers and labor force, at that time.  The Proletariat decided to revolt against the capitalists, because they were being exploited.  This reaction is the antithesis, or the opposition.

The synthesis results from these two groups opposing one another and there is an outcome, a synthesis.  The outcome is a new order of things and new relationships.  The new order was Communism.  I t was a direct result of the antithesis or political opposition.  The connection is therefore between the perceived ‘normal’ or starting point against the opposition, the antithesis, to create a new order of doing things.

How is Thesis and Antithesis used in literary circles?

Dramatic effect and contrasts of character are created through an antithesis.  The writer uses the normal character matched with the completely opposite character to create an understanding or the different personalities or the different environment.  Snow White and the wicked queen, who is the stepmother, are a shining example of antithesis.  Hamlet’’s soliloquy, to be or not to be, sums up his dilemma at the time and creates a confusion of thought.  Charles Dickens uses this rhetorical technique in a Tale of Two Cities as he describes ‘It was the best of times and the worst of times,’ when chapter one begins.  The reader is immediately drawn into the story and the upsetting times of the French Revolution that is the scene for the book. 

How are Thesis and Antithesis used in the political arena?

Well known politicians have used thesis and antithesis in their propaganda and speeches to rouse their followers.  The well known Gettysburg address, given by Abraham Lincoln, used the antithesis of little and long at Gettysburg at the dedication to national heroism.  Lincoln said:

“The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”  This speech has gone down in history as one of the most important speeches and it has definitely been remembered.  

Antithesis in a speech helps to advertise sentiments and rally crowds together due to its emotional power.  Martin Luther King used antithesis to sway a crowd by saying unless people chose to live together as brothers they would surely perish as fools.  

How does Thesis and Antithesis form part of a debate?

Formal debates make good use of the opposition concept brought about by the use of antithesis.  The debate will start with the presentation of the thesis, followed by the antithesis and summed up in the synthesis.  For example, a debate about eating meat could open with the points for eating meat.  The next section of the debate argues for not eating meat and finally the points for and against could sum up eating meat, but as small portions of a persons dietary needs.  The conflict of the argument comes between the thesis and the antithesis.  The summary for the listeners to take away is the synthesis of the points made in the debate.

What makes Antithesis a rhetorical device?

The antithesis conjures up a more emotive response because of the opposition factor.  Adding in the opposite or exaggerated form of a word in a statement makes more impact for the listener.  In the event of a man walking on the moon, for example, this was not just a small event happening when a rocket went to the moon.  No, this was a gigantic expedition to another planet.  Whether it was intentional or not this statement has stood the test of time. It has become one of the most well known quotes highlighting a particular event.  The clever use of the antithesis of a giant leap as part of the statement has made these words stand out in asthey marked this occasion.  They bring the impact of these steps to the world as a great vision and achievement for mankind.  

Chart to compare Thesis and Antithesis 

Summary of Thesis and Antithesis:

  • Thesis and antithesis are literary devices that highlight themes or emotional rhetorical situations.
  • Well known events, using thesis and antithesis, show how this form of rhetoric creates an emotional response from readers or audiences.  Neil Armstrong’s comment upon landing and walking on the moon for the first time in history is a shining example.
  • The use of thesis and antithesis in literature enable the author to give more emphasis to an event or a theme in a story or play.
  • Karl Marx used the thesis, antithesis and conclusion of a synthesis, to explain the evolution of communism.
  • Using this format in debate helps to understand how two opposing ideals, around one debatable topic, can help the speakers provide their arguments.  The debate is then wrapped up in a synthesis of ideas and the conclusion of the debate leading to a consensus of opinion.
  • When well known politicians make a statement using thesis and antithesis, the statement is more powerful.  These rhetorical statements become part of our history and become famous for the impact they made using just a few words to express a life changing situation.
Christina Wither
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References :


[0]P. David. Sept 19th.2016. www.socratic.org/questions/what-are-thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Pub. Socratic Q and A.

[1]Maybee.J.E. June 3rd 2016. www plato.stanford.encyclopedia of philsophy>entries>hegelis

[2]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Franz_Mossu_Idyllion,_Sive_Antithesis_Poetica_Ad_Parallela_M._Lomeri_Diaconi_Augustani,_Et_Sub-Ministelli_Acatholici,_M%C3%BCnchen_1700.jpg

[3]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Typeface-thesis.jpg

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