Apostrophe is a literary device that allows a speaker or writer to address someone or something that is absent, dead, nonhuman, or abstract. For example, a poet might address a star, a lover might address an absent beloved, or a mourner might address a deceased person. Apostrophe is used primarily to express strong emotion (like love, hate, fear, or anger), but it allows the speaker or writer to do so by directly addressing the subject of their thoughts or feelings, which makes the expression less abstract.
Apostrophe is found throughout literature: it appears in poetry, prose, and drama, and across all eras from ancient Greek epic poetry through modern times. Apostrophe can also be found in everyday speech, such as when someone talks to their car, their pet, or their phone. Apostrophe is not to be confused with the punctuation mark of the same name, which is used to indicate possession or omission of letters.
Examples of Apostrophe in Literature
One of the earliest and most famous examples of apostrophe in literature comes from Homer, who begins both The Iliad and The Odyssey with an invocation of the Muse. The Muse is the goddess of inspiration and poetry, and Homer asks her to help him tell his stories. For example, The Odyssey begins with these lines:
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Another classic example of apostrophe is found in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, in which Mark Antony delivers a famous speech after Caesar's assassination. Antony addresses Caesar's corpse several times during his speech, as well as Caesar's spirit. For example, he says:
O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure
A more modern example of apostrophe is found in Sylvia Plath's poem \"Daddy\", in which she addresses her father who died when she was young. Plath uses apostrophe to express her complex feelings of anger, grief, and love towards her father. For example, she says:
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had timeâ
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
Why Use Apostrophe
Apostrophe can be used for various purposes in literature and speech. Some of the main reasons to use apostrophe are:
To convey strong emotions: Apostrophe allows the speaker or writer to express their feelings directly and intensely towards someone or something that is absent or unreachable.
To create a dramatic effect: Apostrophe can create a sense of intimacy between the speaker or writer and their audience, as they share their inner thoughts and feelings. Apostrophe can also create a contrast between the presence of the speaker or writer and the absence of the person or thing they address.
To personify nonhuman entities: Apostrophe can give human qualities and emotions to nonhuman things, such as animals, objects, or abstract concepts. This can make them more relatable and vivid for the audience.
To invoke inspiration or assistance: Apostrophe can be used to ask for help or guidance from someone or something that is higher or more powerful than the speaker or writer, such as a god, a muse, or a spirit. aa16f39245