What is Anachronism: definition, key aspects and examples


Anachronism refers to the presence of an object, event, person, or idea in a time period where it does not belong. It is the inclusion of something that is out of chronological order or inconsistent with the historical context being depicted. Anachronisms can occur in various forms, including linguistic, cultural, technological, or historical references.

Key Aspects of Anachronism:

  1. Chronological inconsistency: Anachronism involves the placement of an object or concept in a time period that does not align with its historical existence.
  2. Contextual mismatch: It occurs when an element clashes with the cultural, social, or technological context of the time being portrayed.
  3. Unintentional or deliberate: Anachronisms can be accidental errors made by creators or conscious choices used for artistic or comedic effects.

Examples of Anachronism:

  1. Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” includes a reference to a striking clock. However, mechanical clocks with striking mechanisms did not exist during the time of Julius Caesar, making it an anachronism.
  2. In Mark Twain’s novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which is set in the mid-19th century, Huck mentions a steamboat with a sign that says “St. Louis to New Orleans.” However, the concept of steamboat signage advertising specific destinations did not exist during that time period.
  3. In Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Ivanhoe,” set in the 12th century, a character mentions the game of “chess.” However, chess, as we know it today, was not played during that era, and a different game called “chaturanga” was played instead. The reference to chess is an anachronism.
  4. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby,” set in the 1920s, there is a scene where a character wears a wristwatch with an electric light. However, wristwatches with electric lights were unavailable until the 1930s, making it an anachronistic detail.
  5. In Charles Dickens’ novel “A Tale of Two Cities,” set during the French Revolution in the late 18th century, a character exclaims, “The age of electricity!” However, electricity was not widely harnessed or understood during that time, making it an anachronistic reference.
  6. A Renaissance painting depicting biblical scenes includes characters dressed in clothing styles from the 18th century. The anachronism lies in the mismatch between the historical periods of the depicted figures and their clothing.

These examples illustrate how anachronisms can disrupt the historical accuracy or believability of a work by introducing elements that do not fit within the established time frame.

Also read; Amatory fiction: definition, key features, and examples