Apostrophe in Literature: Addressing the Absent

Apostrophe is a literary device where a character addresses a subject that is not present in the literary work, such as an abstract idea, an inanimate object, or an absent or deceased person. This rhetorical device allows for emotional expression, emphasizing the importance of the addressed subject. It also provides insight into a character's thoughts and feelings. Here are some key aspects of apostrophe:

Everyday Examples of Apostrophe in Speech

Apostrophe can also be found in everyday speech when people address inanimate objects or abstract ideas. Here are some common examples:

  • "Love, who needs you?"
  • "Come on, Phone, give me a ring!"
  • "Chocolate, why must you be so delicious?"
  • "Alarm clock, please don’t fail me."
  • "Seven, you are my lucky number!"
  • "Thank you, my guardian angel, for this parking space!"
  • "Heaven, help us."

Examples of Apostrophe in Song Lyrics

Song lyrics often employ apostrophe to address inanimate objects or abstract concepts, adding depth and meaning to the lyrics. Here are some examples:

  • "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star / How I wonder what you are"
  • "O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree / How lovely are thy branches"
  • "Hey, hey, set me free / Stupid Cupid stop picking on me"
  • "It’s up to you / New York, New York"
  • "Little Red Corvette / You need a love that’s gonna last"
  • "Hello darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again"
  • "Don’t tell my heart, my achy breaky heart / I just don’t think he’d understand"

Examples of Apostrophe in Shakespeare

William Shakespeare frequently used apostrophe in his plays to reveal characters' inner thoughts and emotions. Here are some examples from his works:

  • "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" (Romeo and Juliet)
  • "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy" (Hamlet)
  • "Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend, more hideous when thou show’st thee in a child than the sea-monster!" (King Lear)
  • "Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still." (Macbeth)

Key Distinctions: Apostrophe vs. Punctuation Apostrophe

While the literary device of apostrophe shares its name with the punctuation mark, they serve distinct purposes:

  • Literary Apostrophe: A character addresses an absent subject, such as an inanimate object, abstract idea, or absent person, as if it were present. This device emphasizes emotions, significance, and allows characters to express their thoughts and feelings. It highlights what is not there, focusing on the absence of the subject.
  • Punctuation Apostrophe: The punctuation mark ' (apostrophe) is used to indicate possession (e.g., the student's book) or to denote contractions (e.g., they're for "they are"). It doesn't address or emphasize absence; instead, it serves grammatical functions.

Use of Apostrophe in Sentences

Apostrophe is used in sentences when someone addresses an absent entity, object, or idea. Here are some examples:

  • "O cow! You shouldst have lived in this age / When grass is absent from the land."
  • "O, my boy! Where should I find you after you have left us? We have become destitute, miserable, and poor."
  • "O, Wordsworth! You should have lived in this age when nature is absent from everywhere."
  • "O, father! I wish you were here with me to help me out of this conundrum."
  • "O saber, my saber! I would have rather had you with me at this hour to fight in the battle."

Examples of Apostrophe in Literature

Apostrophe is a powerful literary device used to convey emotions and thoughts. Here are some examples from literature:

Example 1: "The Raven" (Edgar Allan Poe)

"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting—
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," the speaker addresses the raven, treating it as if it can understand and respond to human emotions. This use of apostrophe underscores the speaker's torment and anguish.

Example 2: "The Glass Menagerie" (Tennessee Williams)

"Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!
I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to
the nearest stranger - anything that can blow your candles out!
– for nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura – and so good-bye."

Tennessee Williams employs apostrophe in "The Glass Menagerie" as Tom addresses his absent sister, Laura. This reveals his ongoing emotional connection to her, despite his physical departure.

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Example 3: "The Color Purple" (Alice Walker)

Dear God,
They put Sofia to work in the prison laundry. All day long from five to eight she washing clothes. Dirty convict uniforms, nasty sheets and blankets piled way over her head. Us see her twice a month for half an hour. Her face yellow and sickly, her fingers look like fatty sausage.
Everything nasty here, she say, even the air. Food bad enough to kill you with it. Roaches here, mice, flies, lice and even a snake or two. If you say anything they strip you, make you sleep on a cement floor without a light.
How you manage? us ast.
Every time they ast me to do something, Miss Celie, I act like I’m you. I jump right up and do just what they say.

In Alice Walker's "The Color Purple," the protagonist Celie addresses her letters to God. This literary device allows readers to access Celie's innermost thoughts and emotions, creating a deep connection with her character.

Synonyms of Apostrophe

There are no direct synonyms for apostrophe as a literary device. However, in the context of dramatic delivery in plays or dramatic poetry, similar terms might include footnote, aside, deflection, departure, divagation, or divergence.

Apostrophe, as a literary device, enriches storytelling by providing a window into characters' inner worlds and emphasizing the significance of absent or abstract subjects. It invites readers to share in their emotions, creating a more immersive and impactful narrative experience.

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