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Irony- 5 instances of irony in modern fiction


Irony is a type of figurative language or literary device that happens when the speaker or writer uses words to express something that is the opposite of the literal meaning.

It is the perfect use of words to convey something that is the exact opposite of its actual connotation. Irony creates a natural tension in writing and brings about drama in the story. The intention is to make the reader stop and take a deeper look at what the writer is trying to accomplish in the tale.

Irony helps to dose the writing with wit and laughter at points. It brings about the unexpected in the tale and keeps things interesting for the readers.

Traditionally irony is classified as below:

Verbal Irony

A figure of speech used to highlight the opposite meaning of what is being said. Verbal irony is used to inject wit and sarcasm into the character’s speech. This makes him/her seem intelligent and interesting.

 “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

This verbally ironic statement frames the opening scene of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride & Prejudice. Austen created a mental jousting for her readers by making them think about what is the more important fact here. The man wants a wife or he is rich because he does not have a wife.

Situational Irony

Situational irony points out how arbitrary and unforeseeable life can be. The reality disputes the end result and thus creates the perfect tension in the tale.

Harry PotterJK Rowling’s iconic series employs this technique in the depiction of some of its characters and how they interact with the others in the tale. The tale begins with Professor Severus Snape’s deep dislike for Harry Potter and marks the latter as the chosen one as a result of it.

The Gift of Magi – O Henry’s finest literary work is an amazing example of this type of irony. A much in love couple wishes to buy a gift for the other for Christmas. The paucity of funds makes each of them sacrifice one of their most precious possession to buy something treasured by the other. She sells off her beautiful long hair to buy a silver watch chain for him. He sells off the watch to buy a gorgeous ivory comb for her hair. They both buy the other a gift that is now useless for them, thanks to the sacrifice they made to get it. Imagine the plight of the readers as they go through the high and lows of this story.

Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is punctuated by the fact that the readers know about the twist in the tale but not the characters. So the audience watches with bated breath as the events unfold and the characters go through the drama. Horror fiction applies this form of irony in the most effective way. The readers know the killer is hiding under the bed but the character walks into the trap unaware and faces the consequences.

One of the most prolific writers in history, who might have actually invented this form of irony, is William Shakespeare. In fact its a sort of literary signature in almost all of this plays.

Romeo & Juliet – The audience know that Juliet is faking her death but Romeo is blissfully unaware of this. And so he acts out of grief and kills himself. When Juliet wakes up and finds him dead, she kills herself for real this time.

Othello – Iago manipulates his dear friend Othello and even though the audience is aware of the deception, the characters goes through the drama. The readers stay hooked throughout the tale, as was the intention of the writer.

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Hope this post was an interesting read for you. Do share if you have a few instances of irony form the books you have been reading. Just drop them in the comments below.

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8 thoughts on “Irony- 5 instances of irony in modern fiction

  1. Very interesting post, Shalini! Those were some very classic examples of irony.
    English Literature abounds in so many instances of this literary device and those of us who’ve grown up reading Shakespeare, Jane Austen, O Henry will recall those literature lessons where we were taught that, when deployed with skill, irony becomes a very powerful tool to add depth and substance to a piece of writing.

    1. Yeah Literature is full of such classic examples and I love reading such stories a lot. Any favorites at your end Esha?

  2. The gift of the Magi troubled me too. And don’t even get me started on Romeo and Juliet. I don’t know why that is considered an epic love story.

    All the recent thrillers I’ve read of late can come up under some category of Irony here.

    1. Oh I wasn’t troubled by it at all – I love all of O’Henry’s writings and Romeo Juliet is a favorite too. I am a sucker for Shakespeare’s flowery writing.

      I know peeps today have a moral dilemma with R&J but I read all of his works as a teenager and feel for them hook, line and sinker 🙂

      Yeah suspense thrillers are the obvious choices for ironical metaphors and twists.

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