In a general sense, irony is a rhetorical device that is characterized by incongruity in the real situation and what is expected. The deliberate use of irony, especially in literary works and speeches, is used to emphasize a point. It is a language that in some of its forms understates facts, denies the contrary of the truth, or states the opposite of the truth. In all it’s forms, it elicits a similar effect to the audience. There are many types of irony used as literary devices, but we shall focus only on three: verbal, dramatic and situational irony.
Verbal Irony Examples
When there is an incongruity between what is stated and what is. Generally, one of the two elements is an antithesis to the other, creating an ironic contradiction. Here are some examples of verbal irony:
- A man looked out of the window to see the storm intensify. He turned to his friend and said “wonderful weather we’re having!”
- Simple phrases, usually in the form of similes, with obvious incongruities ie: clear as mud, smooth as sandpaper, friendly as a coiled rattlesnake
- In literature, Mark Antony’s speech following the assassination of Cesar is an excellent classic example. Mark Antony praises the assassin Brutus as an ambitious and honorable man while at the same time condemning him.
- Exclaiming “oh great” after failing an exam
- As pleasant as a tooth canal
- As sunny as a winter day in Alaska
- This steal is a tender as a leather shoe
- The weather is as cool as a summer day in the Midwest
- In the Scarlett Letter, Dimmesdale’s confession and discussion of his congregation that was meant to get him to be shunned only led to the people to so the opposite
Verbal irony involves speakers’ intentional contradictory propositions in his or her word choice.
Dramatic Irony Examples
Dramatic irony is much seen in plays and movies as a powerful plot device that directly involves the audience and spectators. Usually in the case, the audience have more knowledge than the protagonist, which allows them to see ironic situations more clearly.
Examples of dramatic irony:
- In Shakespeare’s Oedipus Rex, the audience are aware that Oedipus’s journey to find the murderer will be fruitless because he himself is the murderer
- In King Lear, the audience knows from the beginning that Lear’s loyal daughter is Cordelia, but Lear does not see this
- In the Truman show, the audience know that the show for what it is, a show. However, Truman only learns this as the show progresses
- In Romeo and Juliet, the former thinks Juliet is dead, buy the audience know that she only took a sleeping potion
- In Othello, audiences know that Iago is plotting the downfall of Othello while Othello himself is unaware.
- In Star Wars, the audience know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, but Luke does not know until episode V
- In Breaking Bad, Schraeder is looking for a crystal meth producer who happens to be his brother in law. However, only the audience knows this fact, not Schrader
- In horror movies, the audience is aware that there is a killer in the house, but the character does not and they proceed to enter
- In Hamlet, people know that Hamlet is not really mad and that he knows the full truth about his father’s murder.
- In Toy Story, human characters are not aware that the toys speak and move while the audience is aware
Dramatic irony generally has great impact on the audience in terms of being engaged with the performance. By allowing them in on a secret or allowing them to have more knowledge than the characters, the irony keeps them anticipating.
Situational Irony Examples
This happens as a result of disparity between intention and results. As an ironic outcome happens as a result happens to be contrary to the intention. It is also called event irony an the outcome is sometimes humorous.
Examples of situational irony:
- A marriage counselor filed for divorce
- A teacher failed a test
- Gunpowder was discovers in the process of looking for the elixir for immortality
- In The Gift of Magi by O. Henry, the wife cuts her hair to sell it in order to have the money to buy her husband a pocket watch chain. The husband then sells the watch to buy her a hair accessory.
- Fahrenheit 451 is in the top 100 banned books in the US
- An anti technology website
- A fire station burns down
- A traffic cop got his license suspended due to unpaid tickets
- A pilot with a fear of heights
- A couple seeking divorce rediscover their love for each other run the process of filing for divorce
- In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’s father only fulfills the prophecy of him being killed by his own son after trying to avoid it and sending him away
- Robbery at a police station
- A post on Facebook about how useless it now is
- Being thirsty in the sea
- A fertility counselor struggles to get pregnant
- A hungry cook
- A shoemaker without shoes
Sometimes humorous, this type of irony is a useful literary device that can be used in everyday conversations.
Irony is a powerful tool in literature and writing. When used correctly, it has the power to connect to the audience on a whole other level that could not have been otherwise established. Verbal irony is a contradiction between the current situation and what the speaker explicitly expresses. The contradiction has the power to emphasize on the seriousness of the situation. In dramatic irony, the audience are given the upper hand in having a bit more information about the characters. In this case, they know a critical piece if fact that the character does not. Situational irony is one which entails a discrepancy between the character’s intentions and the outcome. The two usually contradict each other to create a humorous effect.
In literary works, and so abundantly in Shakespeare’s literature, the use of irony is used to create a powerful impact on the message. It creates an exceptional uniqueness in speech and literature when used by creating a sort of a puzzle in the reader and the audience’s mind. It has the same effect on speeches as well by driving the intended point home by employing he device’s contrasting nature. Above is an insight with this respect.