Trope Definitions & Examples in Literature
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is a trope?
  2. Metaphor examples in literature
  3. Irony examples in literature
  4. Hyperbole examples in literature
  5. Symbolism examples in literature
  6. Allusion examples in literature
  7. Personification examples in literature
  8. Foreshadowing examples in literature
  9. Flashback examples in literature

If you've ever found yourself lost in a book, captivated by the vivid descriptions and clever wordplay, chances are, you've encountered a literary trope. But what exactly is a trope, and why does it matter in literature? This blog will take you on a journey through the diverse world of literary tropes, providing a clear definition of trope along with concrete examples from well-known works of literature. So, let's jump right in and explore the fascinating universe of tropes together.

What is a trope?

Here's a simple definition of trope for you: a trope is a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression in literature. Think of it as a tool that writers use to give their work extra depth and dimension. Tropes are like the secret ingredients that make your favorite books so deliciously irresistible. They add flavor and richness to the story, making characters, themes, and plots more engaging and relatable.

For example, have you ever read a book where the hero has a sudden change of heart, or a villain turns out to be not so bad after all? That's a trope, my friends! It’s called a character arc—a common pattern or theme in storytelling. Another example of a trope is when an object or symbol in a story represents something else, like a red rose standing for love or a dark storm indicating trouble ahead. That's called symbolism, and it's another popular trope used by writers.

Now that you have a better understanding of the definition of trope and its role in literature, we'll dive into some examples. You'll see how widely used and varied tropes can be— from metaphors and irony to hyperbole and allusions. So, sit back, get comfortable, and let's journey through the fantastic world of tropes together!

Metaphor examples in literature

Metaphors are one of the most frequently used tropes in literature. They're like the all-stars of the literary trope team, frequently called into play to add depth and color to a piece of writing. But what is a metaphor, exactly? Simply put, a metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn't literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison.

One of the most famous metaphor examples in literature comes from William Shakespeare's play, 'Romeo and Juliet', where Juliet is described as the sun. Now, Juliet isn't literally a big, glowing ball of gas in the sky, right? But by comparing her to the sun, Shakespeare implies that she's warm, bright, and essential to Romeo's existence—just like the sun is to life on earth.

Another brilliant example of a metaphor comes from George Orwell's dystopian classic, '1984'. In the novel, Orwell describes war as 'a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent'. Here, Orwell isn't saying that war is literally a method of destruction or disposal, but his metaphor paints a powerful picture of war's devastating effects on society.

Metaphors can be big and dramatic, like the ones in these examples, or they can be small and subtle, adding a layer of complexity to a scene or character. They're one of the key ingredients in the recipe for a compelling story, helping us see the world in new and interesting ways. Now that we've looked at the definition of trope and explored some metaphor examples, let's move on to another fascinating literary device—irony.

Irony examples in literature

Next on our exploration of the definition of trope is irony. Irony is like the mischievous prankster of literary devices. It loves to play with our expectations, leading us one way and then surprising us with something entirely different. Irony is used when the outcome of a situation is opposite to what was expected.

A classic example of irony in literature is found in the short story 'The Gift of the Magi' by O. Henry. In this tale, a poor couple sells their most prized possessions to buy gifts for each other, only to discover that the gifts they bought are useless without the possessions they sold. The man sells his watch to buy combs for his wife's long hair, and the woman sells her hair to buy a chain for her husband's watch. The irony here is delicious and poignant.

Another great illustration of irony comes from Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'. The entire plot is set in motion by the ironic statement, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Austen employs irony to humorously critique the societal norms of her time.

Irony adds a level of complexity and intrigue to a narrative. It can be used to highlight the absurdity of a situation, add a twist to a tale, or drive home a particularly biting piece of social commentary. Now that we've dived deeper into the definition of trope and examined irony, let's set our sights on another expressive literary tool: hyperbole.

Hyperbole examples in literature

As we delve deeper into the definition of trope, we come across a tool that adds drama and exaggeration to our narratives - hyperbole. If you've ever said, "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse," congratulations, you've used hyperbole! Hyperbole is a literary device that uses exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally, but to emphasize a point or create a vivid image.

A fun example of hyperbole can be found in the children's classic 'Charlotte's Web' by E.B. White. When Wilbur, the pig, sees Charlotte's web for the first time, he is so astonished that he faints. "The blood had left his brain" — that's hyperbole at its finest!

Another example of hyperbole in literature is in Roald Dahl's 'Matilda'. When the wicked Miss Trunchbull is described as a "gigantic holy terror", a "fierce tyrannical monster" who "could hurl a javelin further than any other woman", Dahl is using hyperbole to exaggerate her wickedness and strength.

Hyperbole is a great way to add an element of fun and drama to a story. It can make descriptions more vivid, characters more colorful, and situations more exciting. So next time you come across an outrageous statement in a book, remember, it's not just exaggeration — it's hyperbole, an essential part of the definition of trope.

Symbolism examples in literature

Continuing our exploration of the definition of trope, let's turn our attention to a powerful device that takes a physical object or action and uses it to represent something more abstract — symbolism. Symbolism is a literary device that uses symbols, be they words, people, marks, locations, or abstract ideas to represent something beyond the literal meaning.

One of the most iconic examples of symbolism in literature is the green light in F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby'. This small, distant light symbolizes Gatsby's dreams and hopes, and his longing for the past. It tells us a lot about Gatsby's character and motivations, all without Fitzgerald having to spell it out for us.

Another example is the Mockingbird in Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. The Mockingbird symbolizes innocence and goodness. Lee uses the metaphor of a mockingbird being harmed as a symbol for the senseless harm inflicted upon innocent people.

Symbolism can make a story more profound and significant by associating objects with themes, ideas, or characters. It can help us understand the deeper meanings of a story, and add layers of complexity. So, when you see an object or action being given a lot of importance in a story, it might not just be a thing or an event — it could be a symbol, a key piece of the puzzle in the definition of trope.

Allusion examples in literature

As we further explore the definition of trope, we encounter another literary device: allusion. Allusion is a brief, indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of cultural, historical, literary or political significance. It does not describe in detail the person or thing to which it refers. It's more like a casual nod to something that the writer expects the reader to understand.

A well-known example of allusion comes from J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' series. Many of the spells in the wizarding world are Latin phrases that allude to what the spell does. For instance, the spell "Lumos" which creates light, is an allusion to the Latin word 'lumen', meaning light.

Another example is from George Orwell's '1984'. The character Big Brother alludes to Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union. Orwell doesn't explicitly say that Big Brother represents Stalin, but he expects that his readers will pick up on the similarities.

Allusions can be a clever way for a writer to bring extra depth and meaning to their work without having to explain everything. It allows the reader to connect the dots. So, the next time you notice a familiar phrase or name in a new context, you might be seeing an allusion, furthering your understanding of the definition of trope.

Personification examples in literature

Moving forward in our exploration of the definition of trope, let's discuss personification. Personification is a literary device that gives human qualities to non-human things. It's a way for writers to make their descriptions more vivid and relatable to readers.

For instance, we see personification in William Wordsworth's poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." He writes, "The waves beside them danced; but they outdid the sparkling waves in glee." Here, Wordsworth is personifying the waves and the daffodils, giving them the human abilities to dance and feel joy.

Another example is in Markus Zusak's 'The Book Thief', where Death, a typically inanimate and abstract concept, is personified as the book's narrator. This clever twist adds a unique perspective and depth to the story.

Personification plays a big part in making literature more engaging and accessible to readers. It brings life to the inanimate, making the text more vivid and the reading experience more enjoyable. So, the next time you see an object, animal, or idea acting like a human in a story, you're witnessing personification—a fundamental part of the definition of trope.

Foreshadowing examples in literature

Trope definitions are not complete without mentioning foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a tool used by authors to hint at future events in the story. It creates suspense and keeps readers intrigued, wondering what might happen next.

One of the most memorable examples of foreshadowing is found in J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban'. Early in the book, Harry has a Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson about the Grimm, a dog omen of death. Later, he sees a big black dog several times, which foreshadows a significant event later in the story.

Another example is in William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'. Early in the novel, the boys' choir is described as a 'beastie' or 'snake', foreshadowing the savage behavior they will display later in the book.

These instances of foreshadowing are key elements of the respective plotlines. They build anticipation and make the story more engaging for readers. Thus, foreshadowing is an essential component of the definition of trope and a testament to the writer's skill in weaving a compelling narrative.

Flashback examples in literature

Flashbacks are another critical component in the definition of trope. A flashback allows the author to leap back in time, providing the reader with vital background or context that enhances the understanding of the current events in the story.

One of the most striking examples of flashback usage is found in 'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Harper Lee. Through Scout's flashbacks, we learn about her childhood experiences in Maycomb and her interactions with characters like Boo Radley. These flashbacks shape our understanding of Scout's world and the events that follow.

Another instance is from 'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, frequently flashes back to experiences at his previous schools. These flashbacks give us an insight into Holden's character, his feelings of alienation, and his cynical view of the world.

Flashbacks, when used effectively, add depth to the characters, plot, and themes. Thus, they serve as a powerful tool in storytelling, enriching the definition of trope in literature.

While the workshop "Documentary Treatment: Act Two" might not be directly related to tropes in literature, Daisie offers a wide range of classes that can help you expand your knowledge and understanding of various creative fields. Check out Daisie's classes to discover more workshops and resources to enhance your skills and creativity in literature and beyond.