Defamiliarization isn’t just a fancy word; it’s a powerful writing technique that makes the familiar seem new again.

We’ve all experienced moments when ordinary objects or ideas suddenly appear strange or intriguing, and that’s exactly what defamiliarization achieves in literature.

What Is Defamiliarization?

Defamiliarization is a strategy employed by writers and filmmakers to present common objects, scenarios, or concepts in unconventional ways.

It’s a technique aimed at making the audience see the familiar with fresh eyes, encouraging a deeper contemplation and understanding.

Used effectively, this approach can transform the mundane into something captivating, pushing boundaries and challenging perceptions.

In literature, this may involve unusual metaphorical language or intersections of disparate genres.

In cinema, defamiliarization takes shape through unique visual compositions, editing styles, or narrative structures.

Take the classic example of The Godfather.

The film reframes the concept of a family business through the lens of an Italian-American mafia clan.

It invites viewers to consider the complexity of loyalty and power within a familiar family dynamic.

Similarly, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind disrupts the traditional romantic drama with its fragmented storytelling.

This indicates that defamiliarization isn’t merely for aesthetic value but can serve to deepen thematic resonance.

By stepping away from conventional expression, we inspire audiences to re-engage with the world around them.

The end goal is not to alienate but to reawaken a sense of wonder and curiosity.

Hence, defamiliarization serves as a powerful artistic tool in our arsenal:

  • It prompts audiences to question and rethink their perceptions,
  • It breathes new life into worn-out tropes and narratives,
  • It enhances thematic depth and emotional impact.

Embracing defamiliarization allows us to create works that linger in the consciousness long after the initial experience.

The technique beckons us to venture beyond the comfort zone of the familiar, nurturing an appetite for discovery and innovation in storytelling.

Why Is Defamiliarization Important In Writing?

Defamiliarization shakes us out of our comfort zone.

It forces the reader or viewer to engage with the material in a thoughtful, often more critical manner.

This important technique has several key impacts on both the creation and reception of literary and cinematic works:

  • Enhances Engagement – By presenting the familiar in an unfamiliar light, we capture the audience’s attention in a unique and compelling way.
  • Promotes Critical Thinking – Our audiences are encouraged to think critically about the narrative’s themes and messages. Themes that might be overlooked in a conventional presentation are thrust into the spotlight through defamiliarization.
  • Revitalizes Common Tropes – Tropes become engaging and provocative rather than tired and predictable.
  • Facilitates a Deeper Connection – Audiences are more likely to forge a personal connection with the story as they are actively decoding the unusual presentation. When employed effectively, defamiliarization is a catalyst for innovation in storytelling. We recognize its potent ability to offer audiences not just a story, but an experience that pertains to the essence of discovery and re-evaluation. Whether it’s the disconcerting charm of The Godfather or the bewildering landscapes of Inception, defamiliarization ensures that these stories remain etched in our collective consciousness as fresh, dynamic narratives that defy banality and predictability.

Examples Of Defamiliarization In Literature

In literature, defamiliarization beckons readers to experience stories and characters through a lens stripped of convention.

Recognizable scenarios bend under the author’s craft, allowing the old to emerge as novel, stirring engagement and wonder.

A classic instance is Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

Our mundane understanding of family dynamics and individuality is upended when the protagonist awakens transformed into an insect, redefining reader empathy and family roles.

Leo Tolstoy was a maestro of defamiliarization, his writing often obscuring the familiar to provoke thought.

In The Death of Ivan Ilyich, we’re compelled to meditate on mortality and the superficiality of societal norms, concepts we’d otherwise accept without question.

Literature’s power lies in such potent reframing of reality, gifting us alternate perspectives on the fiber of our existence.

Here are standout examples where defamiliarization offers readers a transformative experience:

  • Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — Ordinary objects and conversations become bizarre, inviting us to question logic and reason.
  • George Orwell’s 1984 — Everyday language and truth are distorted, confronting us with the dangers of authoritarianism.

Contemporary works continue this legacy, with authors like Haruki Murakami using defamiliarization to blur the lines between the banal and the extraordinary.

Murakami’s novels frequently marry the mundane with surreal events, challenging us to find meaning amidst chaos.


We weave through the narrative tapestry, discovering insights on love, loss, and reality itself.

Exploring defamiliarization in literature underscores its significance in storytelling.

It’s a tool that provokes, transforms, and elevates our understanding of the stories we tell and witness.

With every page turned and every scene envisioned, we’re wading through layers of meaning, reshaped and renewed, the quintessence of story’s transformative power illuminated before us.

Techniques Used In Defamiliarization

In exploring defamiliarization, we may uncover a myriad of techniques that writers and filmmakers wield to craft a sense of peculiarity within the familiar:

  • Juxtaposition – Placing two seemingly incongruent elements side by side to highlight their disparities.
  • Metaphor – Using figurative language to imbue ordinary objects with new meaning and resonance.
  • Altered POV – Changing the point of view to offer a fresh perspective on an otherwise ordinary situation.

By employing such techniques, creators not only paint the mundane in unfamiliar strokes but also endow their narratives with a probing quality that demands contemplation.

Within literature, a storyteller might switch narrative perspectives to reframe a common event.

In film, directors often employ visual and auditory distortions to achieve the same effect.

For instance, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the blending of memories and present experience throws the audience into a labyrinth of the protagonist’s psyche, reimagining what a romantic narrative can convey.

Altering the narrative structure itself can also serve as a tool of defamiliarization.


Breaking conventions, like presenting a story non-linearly or through an unreliable narrator, can jolt audiences into a heightened state of awareness.

Layering in symbolism is another method where ordinary objects accrue extraordinary significance.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a prime example of using symbols — like the faun and the labyrinth itself — to weave a tale that feels like a dark, haunting dream, challenging our perceptions of reality and fantasy.

In our journey of storytelling, we constantly push the envelope, adopting these techniques of defamiliarization to ensure that our stories linger in the minds of our audience, inviting them to look beyond the surface and to question the world as it’s presented to them.

Defamiliarization: Making The Familiar Strange In Writing – Wrap Up

We’ve explored the intricate layers of defamiliarization and its undeniable impact on literature and film.

By employing this technique writers and filmmakers invite us to peel back the layers of the mundane to uncover new meanings and perspectives.

It’s the subtle dance of the familiar and the strange that ensures stories are not just consumed but experienced.

Let’s carry this awareness forward as we encounter new works and perhaps even weave a thread of defamiliarization into our own storytelling.

The power to see the world anew lies within the pages we read and the stories we share.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Defamiliarization In Writing?

Defamiliarization is a literary technique that involves presenting common objects, scenarios, or concepts in unusual ways.

This technique encourages readers to see the familiar with fresh eyes, fostering deeper thinking and insight.

How Does Defamiliarization Affect The Audience’s Perspective?

Defamiliarization makes the audience view familiar concepts or objects in a new light, promoting introspection and enhanced understanding of the underlying themes or messages.

Can You Provide Examples Of Defamiliarization In Literature?

Yes, classic examples include Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” and Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” as well as Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and George Orwell’s “1984.

What Are Some Techniques Used To Achieve Defamiliarization?

Techniques such as juxtaposition, metaphor, altered points of view (POV), changes to the narrative structure, and symbolism are used to create a sense of strangeness within familiar contexts, challenging readers to think critically.

Why Is Defamiliarization A Powerful Tool In Storytelling?

Defamiliarization transforms and elevates our comprehension of stories, making them more memorable and encouraging us to question the way we perceive the world around us.