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Defamiliarization Examples in Short Stories and Poems (1 Viewer)

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
I hope you will give me some examples of the writing technique of defamiliarization. I'd like examples as shown in well-known story or poetry openings. What lines or sentences serve the purpose of making the familiar and common unfamiliar and strange?

One example I like is T..S. Eliot's The Waste Land where he uses various foreign phrases to disrupt habitual reader perceptions and in order to understand more of the poem, readers must work even harder. I also have as an example the first three sentences of the opening of Julio Cortazar's fascinating story, "Axolotl."

So I'd appreciate more examples of stories or poems. Could you also give me a link so I can look over the entire piece? Thanks in advance for any help you can give me.


Senior Member
I’ve been reading Redwall - again, and Cluny the Scourge and his entry sequence has him cavorting down the road on a horse driven cart, with 500 sea rats, bilge rats, dock rats, etc. But if you are interested in defamiliarization, it is also fun to spot a split infinitive, for poetic vice, for example.


WF Veterans
It is the idea of looking at object at a different way. Imagine someone with a wheel chair and who looks at a staircase. Or a person who has a football and was once a paraplegic. The person who has a football would use unusual adjectives to describe the football. Imagine someone who is an Olympic athlete would describe it differently.

The much adored football made of durable leather I carried in my hands.

The much loathed football I carried was made uglier by its hideous wrinkled complexion of what was an unadorned piece of leather.

You can also use metaphors to create the defamilarization effect. A man was on a hill. A man as old as the hills.

The Russian formalists came up with it. I would research the creator of the technique.
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Senior Member
I write like that, I call it confoundment. I have a passage, here:

This teacher, we’re better known as - the old one - as he were no man or beast, but a mystical cloud, married to no one else but himself, and taken by no thought or being but the regiment of clouds, that he would be seen quite anciently standing beneath - besides many a remark or smirk - upon the religious circle of grass, below the sight of the electric belfry.

I don’t think it makes sense, is it that sort of thing? I also don’t mind using other words for said, even inflection.


WF Veterans
I think emotive adjectives help characterize the person you don't fully know the character in the story.I think you might be close. Here's another definition and example. But I think that's kind of what it seems like.
Houses have moods: this one, where I was born, had rages and sulks.
The house is seen as a living organism in some way. Undoubtedly, the source of the creative dimension in this writing is often metaphysical, something moving away from literal meaning. Creative writing always has a tendency to shift from direct reference and literal statement.
He was an old man is a direct reference.
He was as old as the hills is a literal statement.


Senior Member
I think of it like this: the literal and figurative always culminate in a story with a beginning and ending, the middle is a dance between the hero and antagonist. The closer they get.. My writing metre has a lot to do with my multi cultural upbringing, so I devised the white sword and the black sword, that have two purposes, but one effect. The more I nut out a story, the more the skeleton becomes visible, and the fighting is settled onto paper. The rest has a lot to do with date, and how that is always drawn to a conclusion - unlike life, which is pretty fateful. I search my mind for what I can, but I have similar thoughts to stagnancy.

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
Someone (in another group) gave me an outstanding example of defamiliarization-- Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" where Plath defamiliarizes fatherhood and domesticity. Next I'll be exploring Emily Dickinson's poems for her methods of defamiliarization. In addition to poetry examples, I would love to have links to well-known short stories to explore too. I just thought of Kafka's Metamorphosis so I'm on my way to explore that one. Thanks for the information you've all given me. If you think of other well-known stories or poems I'd love to hear about them.


Friends of WF
I hope you will give me some examples of the writing technique of defamiliarization. I'd like examples as shown in well-known story or poetry openings

I'm still not completely settled with the idea, but I found this marvelous bit of scholastic work on the subject:

Things Made Strange. On the Concept of Estrangement in Science Fiction
Unfortunately it's all film but the examples there are interesting, and, beyond that, likely irrelevant to your effort. [*]

They didn't mention Rod Serling's "Eye of the Beholder" which seems to fit the concept. But that was television not film. And there isn't a short story in print. As far as I can find.

After reading, and filtering the scholastic sniping (my goodness!) in the paper, I came away with some fine-grained definitions.

Those lead me to offer two things that might or might not apply

1. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. A novel, and so, outside your scope. The text will surely defamiliarize one to the concept of both "house" and "narrative" and the book, its physical design, to the concept of book. (Seriously. Everyone should at least once pick up and leaf through this book. Definitive example of "novel.")

2. Sharon Olds, poet. Her work often uses the idea (if I have it right, still ungelled). And a piece come to mind is her "The Enchantment" wherein one finds passages such as:
When I said, to my mother, What was a good
thing about me as a child?, my mother’s​
face seemed to unfurl from the center,​
hibiscus in fast motion, the anthers​
and flounces springing out with joy....​
(from The American Poetry Review)

If this excerpt correctly illustrates the concept of defamiliarization, as I recall, Olds' earlier work is full of it. The Gold Cell, perhaps? I have only her later Stag's Leap in my collection now and a quick scan of the contents show me nothing like this.

More of her work at Poetry Foundation
Might be more in there.

I hope this can help you.

[*] Interested Others: I know it's technical reading, but that first piece mentioned, "Things Made Strange", talks science fiction theory a bit and is actually quite interesting, if a little dated. I think it actually applies to something @Digital Dive Labs is doing. Talks obliquely about the dissonance caused by mixing sci-fi and classical fantasy.

Good writing

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
Thank you so much, robertn51, for that great essay. And thanks for the other tips you shared. Yes, Sharon Olds's work definitely fits. Some say defamiliarization is a technique commonly used in poetry. I'm starting to think successful writers of any genre make use of the technique.

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
I just thought of a novel that defamiliarizes the idea of a novel. It's Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood: a Novel? Every sentence in the book is in the interrogative mood. Each and every sentence. It defamiliarizes or "makes strange" our common notions of how a novel should be written. (I love Powell's writings in general.)