Trope Examples and Definition - Literary Devices (2024)

Definition of Trope

A trope is any word used in a figurative sense (i.e., a figure of speech) or a reoccurring theme or device in a work of literature. The first definition of trope can refer to numerous types of figures of speech, which we explore below. The second definition of trope can be slightly derogatory in that a reoccurring theme in a certain genre can become cliché, and thus stale and overused. In this sense, a trope is similar to a convention of a genre, such as the common theme of a “dark lord” in the genre of fantasy or the appearance of a literal ticking bomb in an action or adventure story. The majority of this article will delve into the first definition of trope and the way that different tropes function in literature.

The word trope comes from the Greek word τρόπος (tropos), in which it means “a turn, direction, or way.” The word came to mean “a figure of speech” in Latin in the 1530s, as it developed the denotation of turning a word from its literal meaning to a figurative one.

Types of Tropes

There are many different figures of speech. The following is an incomplete list of trope examples:

  • Allegory: An allegory is a work of art, such as a story or painting, in which the characters, images, and/or events act as symbols.
  • Antanaclasis: Antanaclasis is to repeat a word or phrase but with a different meaning than in the first case.
  • Euphemism: A euphemism is a polite or mild word or expression used to refer to something embarrassing, taboo, or unpleasant.
  • Irony: Irony is a contrast or incongruity between expectations for a situation and what is reality.
  • Meiosis: Meiosis is a figure of speech that minimizes the importance of something through euphemism.
  • Metaphor: A metaphor is a rhetorical figure of speech that compares two subjects without the use of “like” or “as.”
  • Metonymy: Metonymy is a figure of speech in which something is called by a new name that is related in meaning to the original thing or concept.
  • Synecdoche: Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that refers to a part of something is substituted to stand in for the whole, or vice versa.

The American literary theorist Kenneth Burke described “the four master tropes” to be metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony.

Common Examples of Trope

There are many different examples of tropes that we use in common speech. For instance, there are many pun examples which contain antanaclasis, such as the famous one-liner “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

Here are some other humorous quotes to demonstrate different types of tropes:

CUSTOMER: He’s not pinin’! He’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He’s expired and gone to meet his maker!He’s a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up the daisies!
His metabolic processes are now history! He’s off the twig!
He’s kicked the bucket, he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible!!

  • Metaphor in the “Dead Parrot Sketch” from Monty Python

[after slicing one of the Black Knight’s arms off]
King Arthur: Now, stand aside, worthy adversary!
Black Knight: ‘Tis but a scratch!
King Arthur: A scratch? Your arm’s off!

King Arthur: [after Arthur’s cut off both of the Black Knight’s arms] Look, you stupid bastard, you’ve got no arms left!
Black Knight: Yes I have.
King Arthur: Look!
Black Knight: It’s just a flesh wound.

  • Verbal irony in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Significance of Trope in Literature

Trope examples are both very prevalent and very important in literature. Figurative language is a huge part of all forms of literature, whether poetry, prose, or drama. The goal of a writer using figurative language is to push the reader or listener’s understanding of a certain word or words. This makes the language used more memorable and more unique. Writers use different figures of speech for many different reasons and in many different ways, as we will see below.

When considering the second definition of trope, i.e., a reoccurring theme or device in a work of literature, authors will often choose to use a trope to establish which genre they are working in. Even though a certain theme might be overused in fantasy, it can be helpful to use these same themes to make the reader aware of what kind of book he or she is reading. For example, dragons, royalty, and magic are common in fantasy stories, and yet they continue to be used so as to place a narrative in that fantasy realm.

Examples of Trope in Literature

Example #1: Irony

ANTONY: The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious.
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest—
For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men—
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me.
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.

(Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare)

In his eulogy for Caesar, the character Antony repeatedly says that “Brutus is an honorable man.” This is a clear case of verbal irony from William Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar because Brutus was one of Caesar’s friends to stab him. Antony does not consider Brutus to be honorable; in fact, he thinks anything but. Therefore, this is an example of trope because Antony is twisting language and meaning.

Example #2: Antanaclasis

OTHELLO: It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul,–
Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars!–
It is the cause. Yet I’ll not shed her blood;
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow,
And smooth as monumental alabaster.
Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.
Put out the light, and then put out the light:

(Othello by William Shakespeare)

When Othello considers killing his wife Desdemona, he uses an example of antanaclasis with the word “light.” In this case, he will literally put out the lights in her room, then figuratively “put out the light” by killing her.

Example #3: Synecdoche

The party preserved a dignified hom*ogeneity, and assumed to itself the function of representing the staid nobility of the countryside—East Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gayety.

(The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

The theme of class and wealth is integral to the chief conflict in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In the above excerpt Fitzgerald uses a synecdoche example by referring to different groups of people just by the place they live: East Egg and West Egg. These place names stand in for the whole.

Example #4: Euphemism

The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs. Their names, in Newspeak: Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty.

(1984 by George Orwell)

In George Orwell’s famous dystopia 1984, there is purposeful euphemism on the part of the government. The four main branches of government are given names directly opposite to their true purpose. The euphemisms conceal their actual doings and paper over the truth. This is a more sinister twisting of language.

Example #5: Metaphor

He says, you have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else but you can’t make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.

(Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt)

From Frank McCourt’s memoir Angela’s Ashes we find a beautiful metaphor example. The family is quite poor, but the father reassures his children that “your mind is a palace.” This important metaphor is meant to reassure them that earthly goods do not determine their true worth, and that the mind is a far more precious treasure.

Test Your Knowledge of Trope

1. Which of the following is not a trope definition?
A. A figure of speech.
B. A reoccurring theme or convention.
C. An unexpected turn in a conversation.
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #1″]
Answer: C is the correct answer.[/spoiler]

2. Which of the following tropes appears in the following quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet?

MARCELLUS: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

A. Antanaclasis
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #2″]
Answer: B is the correct answer. “The state of Denmark” stands in for the royalty and government.[/spoiler]

3Which of the following is not a type of trope?
A. Genre
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #3″]
Answer: A is the correct answer.[/spoiler]

Trope Examples and Definition - Literary Devices (2024)


Trope Examples and Definition - Literary Devices? ›

“Juliet is the sun!” says Romeo. This is a trope, specifically, it's a type of trope called a metaphor. The other meaning of the word “trope” is a storytelling convention, device, or motif; specific tropes might be a characteristic of a particular genre of storytelling.

What is an example of a trope in literature? ›

The phrase, 'stop and smell the roses,' and the meaning we take from it, is an example of a trope. Derived from the Greek word tropos, which means, 'turn, direction, way,' tropes are figures of speech that move the meaning of the text from literal to figurative.

What are tropes in figurative language? ›

In rhetoric, a trope is a word or phrase that implies something different to its ordinary meaning. Instead of its literal meaning, a trope generates a figurative meaning. This is usually done to add flair to written or spoken language. Trope example. “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.”

What is a sentence example for trope? ›

The forest had become a tainted trope. Some of the tropes here are familiar. The map of China becomes a trope. It has become such a familiar trope, the easiest playing to the gallery that no one can disagree.

What is the definition of a trope? ›

: a common or overused theme or device : cliché the usual horror movie tropes. 2. : a phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages.

What is a common trope? ›

A 'trope' is a common motif in a specified niche of work or art. So a Character Trope refers to common attributes that are found across a wide spread of certain characters.

What is the most popular trope? ›

Happy Ending – The most popular and important romance trope on the list! The Love Triangle – Three characters, one choice, and some unavoidable hurt feelings. Love triangles make for plenty of tension. Forced Proximity – Two characters who find love when they're forced to spend time together.

Are metaphors a trope? ›

We need to make some basic distinctions, starting with the word Trope. Metaphor is one of several kinds of trope.

Is personification a trope? ›

Personification: A trope in which human qualities or abilities are assigned to abstractions or inanimate objects.

What is the literary trope of irony? ›

As a literary device, irony implies a distance between what is said and what is meant. Based on the context, the reader is able to see the implied meaning in spite of the contradiction.

What is an example of a trope in TV? ›

Boy Meets Girl – The Oldest TV Trope

One of the oldest and most basic plot line tropes. The events go as follows: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl. Of course, we can change out 'boy' and 'girl' respectively. But, at its essence this trope is about meeting, losing, and rekindling love.

What is a trope in film examples? ›

In cinema, a trope is what The Art Direction Handbook for Film defines as "a universally identified image imbued with several layers of contextual meaning creating a new visual metaphor". A "Mexican standoff" is a common film trope. A common thematic trope is the rise and fall of a mobster in a classic gangster film.

What is a trope in literary criticism? ›

A literary trope is the use of figurative or metaphorical language (like a figure of speech) for artistic effect. Today, the word trope often signals a common or overused literary device.

Is a simile a trope? ›

figure of speech

simile, and irony, are called tropes.

What is a word that means trope? ›

Synonyms of trope
  • cliche.
  • cliché
  • truism.
  • commonplace.
  • platitude.
  • chestnut.
  • banality.
  • saying.

What are the four major tropes? ›

The four master tropes are metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. These figures or tropes play a central role in the organization of both literary works and systems of thought. Every figure of speech can be divided into two parts corresponding to what is literally said and what is meant.

What are tropes in books? ›

A trope in literary terms is a plot device or character attribute that is used so commonly in the genre that it's seen as commonplace or conventional. For example, a trope in superhero stories is a villain who wants to take over the world.

What's the difference between a trope and a cliche? ›

A trope is a tried and true story element that people like, and nearly every story has one or several. A cliche just means something has been used too much. It's often just a line or a way of saying things, and isn't necessarily a story type. The only thing they share is they are both commonly used in fiction.

What makes a trope a trope? ›

The word trope (pronounced “trohp”) comes from the Greek word tropos, meaning a turn or change of direction—a trope, in the original sense of the word, is a turning of language to a new use for purposes of persuasion or inspiration. In literature, many tropes use figures of speech—nonliteral language.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Zonia Mosciski DO

Last Updated:

Views: 5830

Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Zonia Mosciski DO

Birthday: 1996-05-16

Address: Suite 228 919 Deana Ford, Lake Meridithberg, NE 60017-4257

Phone: +2613987384138

Job: Chief Retail Officer

Hobby: Tai chi, Dowsing, Poi, Letterboxing, Watching movies, Video gaming, Singing

Introduction: My name is Zonia Mosciski DO, I am a enchanting, joyous, lovely, successful, hilarious, tender, outstanding person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.