Distortion is a literary technique which can be described as twisting or exaggerating a thing or idea so that it is represented as something very different from reality. While this presents distortion in a negative light-"twisting" and "distorting" have negative connotations-distortion can also be viewed as a way to exaggerate specific characteristics or aspects of a thing or idea in order to present it in a different light.
Writers often use other literary devices to aid in distortion. For example, satire is often used to distort an idea or topic in order to bring specific aspects of that idea or topic to light. In addition, writers might use other devices such as symbolism or personification to distort specific aspects of a thing or idea.
In his satire A Modest Proposal Jonathan Swift distorts and exaggerates aspects of the over-population and famine in Ireland in order to satirize the issue. His distortion, to the point of suggesting that the British eat the starving children, is done in an attempt to point out the flawed logic of many British who felt that it was a "problem" that could not be solved. This is an excerpt from his satire:
I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl, before twelve years old, is no saleable commodity, and even when they come to this age, they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half a crown at most, on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriments and rags having been at least four times that value.
I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee, or a ragoust.
In 1984, George Orwell distorts political reality through twisting and exaggerating political actions and ideas. He uses different words for commonplace political happenings to distort reality-but also to emphasize different aspects of reality. This is an excerpt from the novel.
"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by eactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. . . . The process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there's no reason or excuse for commiting thought-crime. It's merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won't be any need even for that. . . . Has it ever occcured to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?"
Literary Terms Examples