Parallelism in Prose

Parallelism is a device that can appear both in prose and poetry. This article focuses on the use of parallelism in prose. For information on how to use it in poetry click the link below:

Parallelism in Poetry

To begin with, let us look at the definition of parallelism.

Parallelim is a device in which the author repeats a certain sentence structure or a certain order of words.

For example:

He was a tender young man, he was a gentle young man, he was an affectionate young man. He was the man everyone wanted.

However, parallelism is more than just a repetition of sentence structure. The thoughts expressed by the repeating pattern are also repeated. In other words, they parallel each other.

When we talk of things being in parallel, then the things are of equal force and have the same tone.

In the example above, the repeating thought is that of a young man of very warm affection:

He was a tender young man, he was a gentle young man, he was an affectionate young man. He was the man everyone wanted.

Parallelism in prose aims at basically two things:

1. Reinforcing ideas of importance and

2. Making the text more pleasurable to the reader.

In the first instance, if the writer wants to reinforce a certain idea or thought, he will repeat it by using a cyclic pattern: he will repeat sentence structure or word order. The overall effect is that the reader will notice the point that he wants to emphasise and pay particular attention to it.

This way of reinforcing ideas or inculcating important thoughts has been used from time in memorial, and it has been proved to work. In other words, if you want someone to remember something, repeat it! There is no better way of doing this than using parallelism.

Parallelism in prose also aims at pleasuring the reader. We are naturally musical by nature and are sensitive to rhythm. Not only do we notice rhythmical patterns, but we also enjoy them. Thus, a passage imbued with parallelism is enjoyable and memorable.

So far, I have talked of parallelism as the repetition of parallel thoughts. However, sometimes, for more effect, the thoughts are contrasted. This contrasting is often used in aphorisms. Such aphorisms usually strike the reader as clever and pithy. Yes, parallelism can make you sound smarter than you really are.

For example, here is something I just thought of:

Charles Dickens was not a writer; he was the writer.

And Speaking of Charles Dickens, have you read his novel, A Tale of Two Cities? In the very first sentence, he uses parallelism in a very clever way:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolisness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way...

Wow, I'm wordless...This passage is one of the greatest ever written, and even though Charles died over a hundred years ago, his words still echo in classrooms all over the world, and in people's heads.

Do you want to learn to write like that? Use a bit of parallelism and see what happens. Who knows, the words you pen down will live on even centuries after you die!

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