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The Phantom Tollbooth | Study Guide

Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth | Literary Devices and Styles



Juster's writing is filled with puns, or words and phrases with more than one meaning. The purpose of puns is to create humor. Many of the names are puns—such as the Princesses Rhyme and Reason. There was no rhyme or reason for them to be exiled. There are many references to the need to have rhyme and reason return. Milo assumes the man he meets in Chapter Two is the Weather Man but he is instead the Whether Man—a play on the homophones weather and whether. The Doldrums has a double meaning. It is both a place in the story and the state of being inactive. Tock the Watchdog is a watchdog and a dog with a watch in its side. The Senses Taker is a name that is a play on both census taker, a person who takes a survey, and senses, as in the five senses.


Juster's writing is filled with clever wordplay. He manipulates words to express ideas in a humorous way. In school Milo "longed to be out and when he was out he longed to be in." Milo "was never anxious to be where he was going" though he "liked to get there as quickly as possible." He also uses opposites and contrasts, describing how Milo sees the world is "large" yet it feels "so small and empty," and the package in Milo's room is "not quite square" but "definitely not round." Tick goes tock and Tock goes tick. Juster also takes common expressions and gives them literal meanings, such as "hanging by a thread" which means a precarious or threatening situation. But here it means someone literally hanging from a thread.


The language and situations throughout the novel are very funny. Juster uses several techniques to make the story humorous. The characters and their descriptions are unique and clever. The Spelling Bee is a giant bee and The Humbug is a large beetle. The expression "you dirty bird" is represented literally by a character that is an actual "dirty bird." Statistics say that families have 2.58 children—that is, the average number of children per family is between two and three. But Juster creates an absurd situation by introducing a character who is .58 of a boy.

The names and places in the story are also very humorous. The bird named "Wordsnatcher," literally takes the words out of your mouth. When Milo yells "Wait!" the bird responds with its actual weight. Just think about the house with doors on four sides. On one side it is the smallest giant you have ever seen. Then the same man opens the back door, and he is the largest midget. He opens the side doors and he is the thinnest fat man and the fattest thin man. Juster uses oxymorons, or contradictory terms, to make a point. Just imagine what the smallest giant or thinnest fat man would look like.

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