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Life/Death Juxtaposition

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With whom should Death belong, if not with Blood, with Life?

As two very different concepts, life and death are stark contrasts in fiction. When a writer wants to form an immediately obvious contrast between two characters, places, or events, it can be particularly visually jarring to associate one with life and one with death — perhaps utilizing Light is or is Not Good or Dark is or is Not Evil. The contrast may also draw on rejuvenation and disease, lively youth and chronically ill elders, or an orphanage and a graveyard.

Characters juxtaposed in this way may be any combination of Villain Protagonist and Hero Antagonist or the Big Good and the Big Bad or whatnot. Others may be a Fertility God versus a God of Death or Destruction.

Virtually any Elemental Power can be construed as being related to either life or death (e.g. fire creating life-sustaining heat or death-inducing burns), but this trope applies to those life/death contrasts that are strongly associated with "life" and "death."

If life and death are personified as absolutes and come into conflict, then that's Yin-Yang Clash. Also, if the juxtaposition comes in the form of characters dying while other characters are born, then that's Birth-Death Juxtaposition.

Compare and contrast Light/Darkness Juxtaposition, which often associates life with light and death with darkness; Fire/Water Juxtaposition, when one of those elements has a creation motif and the other a destruction motif; Lightning/Fire Juxtaposition, when the same happens between lightning and fire; Elemental Rivalry, when "Life" and "Death" are treated as elements in a work, and Birth-Death Juxtaposition, which is when the act of being born is juxtaposed with the act of dying. Compare Interplay of Sex and Violence. Expect Symbolic Baptisms to play with this type of contrast. A character embodying this is in a Mortality Grey Area. See Also: Died on Their Birthday, where a character's death coincides with the anniversary of their birth.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the anime of Natsume's Book of Friends, Fuzuki is the god of the Absent Moon and Houzuki is the god of the Harvest Moon. During the competition in the Moon-Splitting Festival, Fuzuki says that if he wins the competition, he'll make Misumigahara barren for ten years, and Houzuki says he'll make her bountiful and healthy if he wins the competition instead.

  • Arnold Böcklin did a painting called Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle.
  • Gustav Klimt: Death And Life has a skull-faced humanoid representing Death looking on at a group of humans entwined in each other representing Life.
  • Judith Leyster's The Last Drop depicts two revelers drinking and smoking while a skeleton holding an hourglass stands in the background.
  • Ophelia is drowning in a pond surrounded by lush greenery.
  • A few Renaissance paintings depicted the Virgin Mary with a skull.

    Comic Books 
  • In Marvel Comics, the death figure is opposed by another Cosmic Entity named Infinity. Both are meant as a balance for each other.
  • In Green Lantern: Wrath of the First Lantern as Sinestro retrieves his yellow ring, Hal Jordan, in the Land of the Dead with the Black Lantern ring, leaps from a cliff in order to die so that he may wield the Black Lantern ring and escape. The panels welcoming them to their cores are even side-by-side.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Ralph Bakshi's Wizards has twin sons born to the queen of the fairies. The narrator describes them as being diametric opposites. One baby is Avatar, an attractive baby and Friend to All Living Things who grows up looking kind of like one of Tolkien's dwarves. The other is Blackwolf, a repulsive living corpse of a baby who grows up to be a dour zombie-like wizard with an affinity for Nazi propaganda. Avatar lives in the verdant lands among the fairies and elves, while Blackwolf lives in a nuclear wasteland called Scortch among the wretched and shambling mutants.
  • The Balance Between Good and Evil in Epic (2013) is between that of the life-bringing, nature-loving forces of the forest and the decay-and-darkness-loving forces of rot.

  • Humboldt's Gift: The last paragraph of the novel has Charlie walking away from his old friend Humboldt's grave, as the dirt is shoveled in, and noticing the first spring flowers coming up out of the ground.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has the myths of R'hllor—a deity of fire, light, and life—and his nemesis the Great Other—a deity of darkness, cold, and death.
  • Tales of Kaimere: While the Great Dying, the largest mass extinction on Earth 252 million years ago, occurred, Kaimere was experiencing a golden age of biodiversity of synapsid megafauna that were harvested million of years earlier.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Right as Sansa's direwolf, Lady, is killed, the scene immediately cuts to her brother Bran waking up from his coma. Their family has a wolf theme, meaning that one wolf dies as another wakes from a death-like slumber.
  • Without a Trace. Two agents get word that a co-worker has made it through a risky surgery not two seconds before they're ambushed by gunmen. The prisoner they're transporting is killed, and one of them is badly injured.
  • General Hospital's BJ Jones is killed in a school bus accident. Her heart is donated to her ailing cousin Maxie, who was at death's door until then.
  • At the conclusion of the ER episode "Hell & High Water", the little girl who had been stable throughout the episode abruptly deteriorates and dies. Meanwhile, in the room next door, the little boy whom Doug had struggle to save finally stabilizes and survives.

  • Coldplay's Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. The title translates to "Long Live Life or Death and All His Friends". The first song begins with the word "life", "Life in Technicolour", and the last song begins with the word "death", "Death and All His Friends". This fits with the album's themes of life, death, revolution, and rebirth.
  • Tears for Fears: On The Seeds of Love album cover, there's a fish ornament on Roland Orzabal's umbrella (it's implied to be "dead" because fish can't survive outside a body of water) and his brooch is a stylized fish skeleton (so both fishes signify death), whereas Curt Smith's brooch is a stylized eye (only living creatures have eyes) with eyelashes adorned with a five-pointed star (which symbolizes the universe in general), the crescent moon (which rules Smith's zodiac sign Cancer) and the sun (which rules Orzabal's zodiac sign Leo). In other words, Smith's brooch is a whimsical representation of life being influenced by the cosmos (Orzabal is big on astrology, so he genuinely believes that celestial bodies determine our personalities and our destinies).

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Norse Mythology: The goddesses Hel and Idunna. Hel is a goddess of Death and is strongly associated with disease. Idunna is a goddess of rejuvenation and is best known as the orchardist of the apples that rejuvenate the god/desses in Asgard. Hel is said to have her own apple orchard, which means that both of these goddesses have their own apple orchards.
  • Greek Mythology: Hades, god of the Underworld, kidnaps and marries Persephone, a goddess of vegetation and fertility.

  • In the world of Dungeon Life Quest, Healing and Necromancy are related fields. At one point, a Healer approaches Brianna and asks for her help using her necromancy powers.
  • In RPG Stuck, Claire Sigma is the Sylph of Life and becomes a member of the undead after getting resurrected, and she's also a Death Seeker.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is how the conflict between Green and Black began in Magic: The Gathering. Nowadays, its more between fatalism and free will respectively.
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons cosmology and those derived from it (e.g. Pathfinder), the positive energy plane is the origin of all life and provides energy for magical healing and resurrection while the negative energy plane is the origin of The Undead and its energy weakens or outright destroys all living matter.

    Video Games 
  • Hades:
    • Per myth, Hades (god of the underworld) used to be married to Persephone (goddess of verdure).
    • This is a recurring theme for the relationship between Zagreus and Thanatos. Achilles even argues that Zagreus's (nebulous and speculative) position as a god of blood and rebirth is what makes him Thanatos's soulmate.
  • Plants vs. Zombies: The Plants represent life and defend humanity from the Zombies, The Undead who threaten it.
  • Pokémon has two legendaries representing life and death respectively, the Fairy-type Xerneas, the mascot of Pokémon X, and the Dark/Flying-type Yveltal, the mascot of Y. Xerneas is capable of granting everlasting life, while Yveltal absorbs the life force of every living creature in its immediate vicinity upon dying before reverting to its cocoon form.
  • Overwatch offers Moira who is a support hero who can heal her allies with her left hand and rip her enemies apart with her right. Both her hands are visually distinct, with her right hand appearing corrupted and necrotic with long, clawlike nails.
  • In World of Warcraft, Life and Death are two of the six Background Magic Fields in the setting, opposing Background Magic Fields at that. They give rise to Nature and Necromantic magic, respectively.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Nia flat out states this to Malos during a confrontation after The Reveal.
    Nia: Your power might destroy, Malos, but my power restores. There is no injury you can inflict that I cannot heal!

    Visual Novels 
  • A Date with Death: The player character cannot seem to die no matter how many freak accidents life throws their way because they are an embodiment of Life itself, while "Grim"/Casper claims to be a Grim Reaper sent to claim their soul and actually is one.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: The Grimm Reaper is a legendary Huntsman who dual-wields two scythes called "Life and Death". Their identity is never revealed and they hide their face behind a skull mask. Maria Calavera was born into a family of silver-eyed warriors, and kept her identity secret because her father realised someone was hunting their kind for unknown reasons. Maria's theme is Dia de Los Muertos, which doesn't simply mourn the deceased, it also celebrates life. The power of the silver eyes is rooted in the desire to protect life and empowers such a warrior when fighting the Grimm that seek to destroy humanity.

    Web Original 
  • In the second season of Within the Wires, Claudia Atieno's fictional painting "Still Life with Orchid" is meant to communicate the cyclical nature of existence by juxtaposing life and death. Specifically, the painting depicts a living orchid with dead leaves and some oranges with subtly rotting undersides.