What Is a Non Sequitur?
The term non sequitur comes from the Latin and means, literally, “it does not follow.” A non sequitur is a response that has no apparent relationship to what came before it. For instance, if you ask a friend what their favorite flavor of ice cream is, and they reply, “I saw a walrus at the zoo,” they’ve given you a non sequitur. Non sequitur is a common device in films, so much so that they have to be very dramatic for us to even notice them. When the camera suddenly cuts away to something apparently unrelated to the scene, it is a non sequitur.
Non sequitur is also a term used in philosophy for a leap in logic. A good example would be a poorly constructed syllogism, “All mammals have tongues. A snake has a tongue. Therefore, a snake is a mammal.”
How Do You Identify Non Sequitur in Writing?
Non sequiturs serve several purposes in literature. First, they can show the reader when one character is being routinely inattentive or dismissive of another; a character who doesn’t pay attention often will respond with non sequiturs. Second, absurdist writers like Samuel Beckett use non sequitur to illustrate the limits of language as a communication tool in a world where people are psychically isolated from each other. Finally, non sequiturs create a comic relief. An old lady who can’t hear and is constantly misinterpreting dialogue in humorous ways is a good example.
Examples of Non Sequitur
1. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” contains several examples of non sequitur, as when the American replies to Jig’s statement about the cool beer’s being “lovely” with this reply: “‘It’s really an awfully simple operation.'”
2. Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, is full of non sequiturs, to the point where the dialogue is almost impossible to follow. That, in fact, is the point of the play; without knowing why they exist, human beings cannot make sense of the world around them.
3. In Federico Fellini’s film 8 1/2, there is a sudden cutaway to a man being hanged. This non sequitur illustrates an emotional state rather than an eventual plot event.
4. All men have ears. Pigs have ears. Therefore, pigs are men. This false syllogism results in a non sequitur.
5. “Would I be working in a dump like this if I could afford a real snake?” is part of the absurdist dialogue in Ridley Scott’s film, Bladerunner.
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