This strong declaration is confident, determined, and without a doubt. It can be made in regard to any belief or fact and in order to express an idea or someone’s feelings. Assertions can appear in everything from novels, short stories, speeches, plays, and even poetry. Additionally, it’s incredibly common for people to make assertions in their everyday life.
Definition of Assertion
Assertions are strongly worded and delivered statements that present readers or listeners with someone’s point of view. Depending on the subject matter, an assertion might be something the listener wants to hear or something they push back against.
Often, they are made out of passion and without complete regard to the facts of a situation. For example, one character might make a passionate assertion about his desire for another (such as in the example from Henry VI, Part III cited below). Then, in response, the object of his affection might reply positively or negatively with their own assertion.
Types of Assertions
- Basic: a straightforward statement that expresses one’s feelings or beliefs. For example, “I wish I’d done this earlier, but now I’ve lost the opportunity.”
- Emphatic: conveys sympathy and is made up of two parts. The first is concerned with another person’s feelings, while the second shows support. For example, “I know this is making you angry, but I really need you to hear me out.”
- Escalating: occurs when one person doesn’t respond to another’s basic assertion. The former gets more determined and firm in theirs. For example, “I need to finish this before you start talking.”
- Language: uses the “I” pronoun and is used to express mostly negative feelings. For example, “When he treats them like that, they aren’t able to get anything done because they feel so stressed.”
- Positive: expresses positive feelings about oneself or someone else. For example, “You’ve done a great job today.”
- Fogging: acknowledges that someone might be right but does not commit fully to that possibility. For example, “You could be right, but I’m not totally convinced.”
Examples of Assertions in Literature
In George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm, there are several good examples of assertions. The best examples are used by the pigs as they attempt to sway all the farm animals to their side. They have to ensure that no one challenges their leadership. For example:
In Beasts of England we expressed our longing for a better society in days to come. However, that society has now been established. Clearly this song has no longer any purpose.
These lines are used to assert that the old song “Beasts of England” is no longer needed. No one can argue against this assertion as they all realize that they’re in a very different, less revolutionary place from where they were in Chapter I.
Henry VI, Part III by William Shakespeare
In the following exchange, which can be found in Act III, Scene 2 of Henry VI, Part III, Lady Grey, and King Edward use an example of an assertion. Edward says:
To tell the plain, I aim to lie with thee.
In response, Lady Grey says:
To tell you plain, I had rather lie in prison.
King Edward asserts his desire to sleep with Lady Grey, and she asserts her preference—death. She has no desire to become close to him. Both of these assertions are quite strong and help the reader understand the strength of the two characters.
Othello by William Shakespeare
The following lines are spoken by Desdemona in Act V, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello. She’s speaking to Othello and uses the following lines to try to convince him that she didn’t do anything wrong, despite what Iago has been telling him.
I never did
Offend you in my life, never loved Cassio
But with such general warranty of heaven
As I might love. I never gave him token.
She uses these words as she dies, asserting that she never did anything untoward during their relationship. Othello, who has killed her in a rage, is blinded by emotion. The entire tragedy could’ve been avoided if Othello had been clear-headed enough to ignore Iago’s assertions that Desdemona was cheating on him.
Explore William Shakespeare’s poetry.
BLK History Month by Nikki Giovanni
In this well-loved poem by Niki Giovanni, the poet uses the following lines:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too
These are the last two lines of the poem, and they assert, quite strongly, that the intended listeners have a place in the world. Their history, which is Black history, is valid and worth preserving.
Discover poems by Nikki Giovanni.
Assertion or Claim
While these two terms are similar, they shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
Claims up for argument while assertions are not. The former should be based on some kind of fact, and if it’s not, it can be shot down. With assertions, the speaker simply needs to believe it, and it’s valid. They are far more forceful and determined than claims are.
Why Do Writers Use Assertions?
Writers use assertions when they want to make, or want their characters to make, clear and impassioned declarations. They do not leave any room for misinterpretation or confusion in the minds of other characters or the reader.
Someone might choose to use an assertion when they want to convey information clearly, build a convincing argument, or declare something they need others to understand. Assertions can be used in a wide variety of situations, ranging from love affairs to personal tragedies, economic decisions, and political policy. The type of assertion a writer uses, basic, positive, etc., will depend on the situation.
Related Literary Terms
- Aporia: a figure of speech where a speaker or writer poses a question. This question expresses doubt or confusion.
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other.
- Dichotomy: create conflict between characters, groups, states of being, ideas, and more.
- Dialogue: a literary technique that is concerned with conversations held between two or more characters.
- Hypothetical Question: a question based on an opinion or personal belief rather than facts.