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Literature Glossary

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An epigraph is a short phrase or quotation that precedes a literary work. You'll usually find an epigraph on the title page or first page of the book. Or you'll find it at the beginning of a poem, just beneath the title. The epigraph can be a way for an author to give a shout-out to another author and set up the tone and themes of the text that follows.

Here's the epigraph from Ray Bradbury's super famous, super awesome dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451:

If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.
Juan Ramón Jiménez

There it is, folks, the perfect epigraph. It sets up the tone of the novel—defiant, rebellious, world-changing. Plus it hints at the themes of literature and writing, rules and order, and identity that are so key in the novel. Well done, Bradbury.

Just so you know, many of our Shmoop learning guides contain a special section that's all about the epigraph. Check out, for example, our sections on the epigraphs of Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease and Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

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