I is for Irony

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Irony plays with words. The meaning of the sentence is the opposite of what is said. Irony provides a stark contrast between the literary meaning and the words set forth. The deeper, real layer of significance is revealed not by the words themselves but by the situation and context. Someone sarcastically stating, “What a great day” after a clearly awful experience would be ironic.

Literary critics identify three kinds of irony: Verbal, Situational, and Dramatic

Verbal irony presents a trope whose intended meaning of statement differs from the actual statement. As a literary example of verbal irony, William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” “…Brutus is an honorable man…”

Situational irony presents incongruity between the expected or intended and what occurs. From Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” when the sailor’s situation grew grave and they were without resources, “…water, water, everywhere/ nor any drop to drink…”  A fire station burning down might be described as situational irony.

Dramatic irony is produced by a narrative in which the audience knows more about the situations than a character in the story. For example, in “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles, Oedipus searches for the murderer of the former king of Thebes. The audience knows the killer is Oedipus himself.

Keep a keen eye out for irony. It happens every day.