Irony as a literary device refers to the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really think especially in order to create a humorous effect, or it is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words.
In irony, there is a difference between what one says or does and what one means. For example: A man is found by a woman, urinating in public and the woman says, “You are such an intelligent man.”
There are three types of irony: verbal irony, dramatic irony and situational irony.
a. Verbal irony refers to a situation where an author says one thing and means something else.In other words, verbal irony is saying something different from what you mean.
√ In A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe, when Nanga says: “teaching is a very noble profession. Here he meant otherwise.
√ When Chief Nanga tells odili that “if someone wants to make you a minister run away” He meant the opposite.
√ When Chief Nanga calls Odili his friend, he meant its opposite.
√ “I can swear to God that I am not as happy as when I was a teacher”.
√ In response to a foolish idea, he says: “What a great idea!”
√ The doctor is as kind hearted as a wolf.
√ His friend’s hand was as soft as a rock.
√ The student was given ‘excellent’ on getting zero in the exam.
√ The roasted chicken was as tender as a leather boot.
√ He was in such a harried state that he drove the entire way at 20 miles per hour.
√ My friend’s children get along like cats and dogs.
√ Their new boss was as civilized as a shark.
√The new manager is as friendly as a rattlesnake.
√ A vehicle was parked right in front of the no-parking sign.
√ The CEO of a big tobacco company said he did not smoke.
b. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that is going on in a situation but the characters are unaware of what is going on. Simply, it is when the audience knows something that the characters don’t. This means that the audience has more information than one or more characters in a work of literature. We have the dramatic irony when the writer allows a reader to know more about a situation than a character does. This creates a discrepancy between what the character says and thinks and what the reader knows is true.
√ A woman thinks her boyfriend is acting strangely because he’s about to propose, but the audience knows that he is planning to run away with another woman, intensifying emotions.
√ In a scary movie, the character goes into a house he thinks is empty, but the audience knows the killer is in the house. This increases the suspense.
√ Sometimes a person is in disguise and the other character talks with him as if he is someone else. Since this is known by the audience, it adds to the humor of the dialogue.
√ In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the audience knows Juliet is in a drugged sleep, so when Romeo thinks she is dead and kills himself (followed by Juliet doing the same) it increases the audience’s shock.
√ In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, the audience knows Nora borrowed money forging her father’s signature and her husband is unaware. We also know Nora’s husband thinks of her as a doll and Nora is unaware.
√ In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we are aware that Hamlet knows the truth about his father’s murder and that Hamlet is not mad. He is simply deceiving others so that he can plan his revenge. He does not reveal his true feelings to the other characters but the audience is fully aware of them.
√In Shakespeare’s King Lear, we know that Lear’s most loyal daughter is Cordelia and he can’t see it.
√ In the Star Wars movies, Luke does not know Darth Vader is his father until Episode V, but the audience knows sooner.
√ In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the audience knows that Macbeth acts loyal to Duncan while planning his murder.
√ In the TV show Smallville, Clark Kent comments that in the future he does not want to put on a suit and fly around but the audience knows he will.
√ In the movie There’s Something About Mary, the audience knows that Ted is being interrogated about a murder but Ted thinks he is being arrested for picking up a hitchhiker. His words are funny because of his misunderstanding.
√ In the movie Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear thinks he is a real space ranger but the other toys and the audience knows that he is just a toy.
√ Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad is a DEA agent looking for crystal-meth producer “Heisenberg”. We know that “Heisenberg” is Schrader’s brother-in-law, Walter White, while Hank has no idea.
√ In Beauty and the Beast, the audience knows that the Beast is a prince living under a curse from the start but Belle is unaware of the Beast’s true identity.
√ In Frozen, the audience is aware that Elsa has powers that are hard to control. Her sister Anna does not know about these powers and thinks of Elsa as standoffish and cold. The truth is that Elsa is being distant from Anna to protect her and is scared of hurting her. The audience feels for both girls.
√ The girl in a horror film hides in a closet where the killer just went (the audience knows the killer is there, but she does not).
√ In Romeo and Juliet, the audience knows that Juliet is only asleep-not dead-but Romeo does not, and he kills himself.
√ In Macbeth, King Duncan says that he trusts Macbeth (“he was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust), but the audience knows that Macbeth is plotting to kill Duncan.
√ The Greek myth of Oedipus, as told in Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, is full of dramatic irony. King Oedipus wants to expose the killer of the former king, Laius. The audience knows that Oedipus is the killer, but Oedipus does not realize that he killed the king.
√ In Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, we know that the old woman bringing the apple is the wicked queen who wants to kill Snow White, but she does not. She purchases the apple, takes a bite, and falls.
c. Situational irony is detected where there is contradiction between the expected result and actual results, or what appears and what is true. It involves a situation in which actions have an effect that is opposite from what was intended, so that the outcome is contrary to what was expected. Therefore, it is a situation in which the outcome is very different than what was expected.
√ In Animal Farm when the animals overthrow Mr Jones we think that they are going to be free but their freedom has become do no freedom.
√ In The Pearl by John Steinbeck, when a poor man Kino finds the Pearl of the World; he expects that the life is going to be better, but instead the life ends up being very worse.
√ In Peter Abraham’s Mine Boy, Though the reader is led to believe that Leah has taken the necessary precautions to avoid arrest, the Fox and his police force catch her red-handed as she and the others are burying the barrels of beer in her yard. Both Leah’s and the reader’s expectations are undermined.
√ In A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe, while Odili is at Chief Nanga’s house, he notices that the Minister’s personal library is incredibly sparse. Additionally, the library only features works of American literature. This is ironic because as the Minister of Culture, it is Chief Nanga’s job to embrace and support works that support and bolster his nation’s art scene. Although Chief Nanga ostensibly fights against Western influence in an effort to preserve African cultural autonomy, we find that he does not “practice what he preaches.”
√ Odili and Elsie accompany Chief Nanga to the Writers’ Society to hear him give the speech at a book exhibition for the novel The Song of the Black Bird. Odili realizes that he knows the author from his time at the University. Soon, Odili also realizes that the Minister of Culture is ignorant of the author and his body of work—another instance of situational irony related to Chief Nanga’s position, since, as the Minister of Culture, he should be familiar with this honored author, especially since he is supposed to be the one honoring him. Chief Nanga quickly starts criticizing the author for his flippant attitude and unusual physical appearance. During his speech, Chief Nanga forgets the name of the author’s book. However, the audience cannot believe that the Minister of Culture would make such a mistake, and his error is treated as an intended joke. This highlights Chief Nanga’s intolerance and ignorance. Through these situations, it becomes clear that Nanga is unfit for his position.
√ In “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry, the husband sells his watch to buy his wife combs for her hair and the wife sells her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch.
√ In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge, the men are surrounded by an ocean of water, but they are dying of thirst (“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”)
√ “The Story of an Hour,” by Kate Chopin tells of a wife who learns that her husband is dead. She feels a sense of freedom as she thinks about a life without restriction. Then, he returns (he wasn’t dead after all) and she dies of shock.
√ In “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant, a woman borrows what she thinks is a costly necklace from a friend and loses it. She and her husband sacrifice to replace it, only to learn years later that the necklace was a fake.