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Situational Irony in Literature: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Irony in Literature
  • 0:48 Situational Irony
  • 2:07 Example
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

In this lesson, you will review the definition and purpose of irony in literature. Furthermore, you will look closer at situational irony and analyze examples.

Irony in Literature

Life is often full of the unexpected. No matter how much you plan things out, unforeseen circumstances ultimately creep into your life, changing everything. Authors often play on that theme and use irony to enhance literature. Irony occurs when the reality turns out to be different from what appears to be or is expected to be true. Using irony allows authors to create more life-like situations within their written works: situations that can surprise and can show the complexity that exists in the real world.

There are several different types of irony, including verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony. Let's look closer at the last one.

Situational Irony

Situational irony is often the easiest to identify. Simply put, situational irony occurs when there is an incongruity between what is expected to happen and what actually happens. So, the audience may be expecting one thing, but is thrown for a loop when something else entirely happens.

One popular example occurs in the final showdown of the Harry Potter series. For just about seven novels, the reader believed that Harry is the only one who can kill the evil Lord Voldemort. However, the reader is entirely surprised when it is revealed near the finale of the series that Harry must, in fact, allow Lord Voldemort to kill him, in order to make Voldemort mortal once again. So Harry has to allow himself to be murdered in order to defeat Voldemort.

It's the exact opposite of what the reader was probably expecting. J.K. Rowling actually did a wonderful job of adding in this twist to create a much more complex conflict. Harry was always willing to fight, but now he must sacrifice himself for the greater good. This ironic situation makes the reader appreciate the sacrifices Harry is willing to make and helps to relate to the surprises in real life that often change our plans completely.

Creating an ironic situation in a written work can allow the reader to distinguish between appearances and realities, eventually bringing the reader to the central theme or message of the story.

Example in a Poem

Let's look at one more example that occurs in the poem 'Richard Cory' by Edwin Arlington Robinson.

'Whenever Richard Cory went down town,

We people on the pavement look at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

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