What is Amplification
In literature, Amplification refers to a rhetorical device that involves extending a sentence in order to elaborate, exaggerate and emphasize certain points in a description, definition or argument. Amplification adds more information to a sentence by methods of embellishment or technical elaboration.
To understand this literary device better, let us look at a simple example. Imagine that you have gone to the doctor’s office because you are not feeling well. What is your response when the doctor asks you “what brings you here today?” Your normal answer would be that you are not feeling well. But in order for the doctor to understand your condition, you’ll add more details to your answer. So your answer will be something like this.
“I’m not feeling well – I have a headache, and my joints ache. I’ve just begun to develop a sore throat as well.”
This is an amplification of the original response. This reply provides more information and elaborates the sentence. The following example demonstrates the difference between the original sentence and the amplified sentence.
Original Sentence: The paper was difficult.
Amplified Sentence: The paper was so difficult. The first part was difficult, but I managed to write something. I didn’t have time to answer the last few questions – I had no idea of the answers as well.
Amplification in Literature
Now that you have a general idea of amplification let us look at the usage of amplification in literature. Amplification involves repeating something that was already said while adding more descriptions and details to the original description. According to Robert Harris, the author of A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices, amplification allows you to call attention to, emphasize, and expand a word or idea to make sure the reader realizes its important or centrality in the discussion.” Therefore, the main aim of amplification is to focus reader’s attention on a particular idea.
“In my hunger after ten days of rigorous dieting, I saw visions of ice cream—mountains of creamy, luscious ice cream, dripping with gooey syrup and calories.”
Note the repetition of the word ‘ice cream’. The phrases following the dash elaborate and exaggerate the first part of the sentence and add more details to the description.
Examples of Amplification in Literature
“Mr. and Mrs. Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new. All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were new, their place was new, . . . their harness was new, their horses were new, their pictures were new, they themselves were new, they were as newly-married as was lawfully compatible with their having a bran-new baby, and if they had set up a great-grandfather, he would have come home in matting from Pantechnicon, without a scratch upon him, French-polished to the crown of his head.”
– Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
“A massive tree centuries old holds out against the odds here across from my mother’s house, one of the biggest trees in Pittsburgh, anchored in a green tangle of weeds and bushes, trunk thick as a Buick, black as night after rain soaks its striated hide. Huge spread of its branches canopies the foot of the hill where the streets come together.. . . .”
– John Edgar Wideman, “All Stories Are True.” The Stories of John Edgar Wideman