How Do I Recognize Stories with Irony?

T. Carrier

Stories with irony operate via contrasts and contradiction of the literal. Verbal incongruity in the form of sarcastic dialogue is one such example. Situational dramatic irony, on the other hand, often occurs when story events diverge from expectation or when concurrent scenes invoke drastically different reader responses. Another common tool used in stories with irony is intentional exaggeration, particularly in thematic satirical pieces. Sometimes, irony may not be intentional, but rather time or the reader's unique experiences will lend irony to a literary work.

Irish writer Jonathan Swift used satire to instill irony in his work.
Irish writer Jonathan Swift used satire to instill irony in his work.

Fiction authors often have their characters practice verbal irony through the use of sarcasm. This technique details behaviors or situations that are illogical or irritating to the character. One common technique might include the character making a statement that diverges from the reality of a situation. For example, in response to one character’s observation about the beautiful day, another character might comment on how sunny the weather is even though it is raining outside. Intentionally exaggerating a statement might also serve as a form of sarcasm, such as when a frustrated mother gushes about all of the house-cleaning assistance she has received from her lazy teenage children.

Fiction authors often have their characters practice verbal irony through the use of sarcasm.
Fiction authors often have their characters practice verbal irony through the use of sarcasm.

Dramatic irony can be recognized from story contrasts. The wife of a soldier may he happily preparing for her husband’s return while the husband is seriously injured or killed in his final battle. Another common technique used for dramatic stories with irony is overlapping the death of an important character with the simultaneous birth of a child. Classic plays, particularly tragedies, often thrive on dramatic irony. In Sophocles's play Oedipus Rex, for example, the main character goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid fulfillment of a prophecy, and ends up realizing the prophecy because of his actions.

Authors can intentionally instill entire stories with irony to relay an intended theme, and satire is one common tool for this approach. In these story types, the author typically has an issue with a person, behavior, or cultural practice that he or she views as overtly unjust or worthy of ridicule. The author attempts to highlight and expose this object of dislike by mocking it in an indirect and humorous manner. Exaggeration, characters and events based on real life, and fusion of the humorous and the serious are thus signs of satirical stories with irony.

For example, 18th century writer Jonathan Swift attacked Irish government policies and Irish attitudes relating to the poor. He launched this attack in a story-essay, "A Modest Proposal," suggesting that poor families could sell their children as food to rich families. The proposition details financial gains for this process and offers a darkly humorous approach for culinary preparation of the children. Such satires provide another form of ironic contrast, as they present the absurd in a serious manner. Satirists often hope that by exaggerating such absurdities in story, the reader will see similar absurdities in the real world.

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Discussion Comments


I really enjoy political satires where politics and politicians are criticized through irony. Political satires are usually humorous. The characters point out faults in a system or a politician through sarcasm. They say things they don't really mean or a series of funny events take place because of contradictions in politician's actions or speech.

I think that serious subjects like politics become very interesting when shown through irony. Even though the issues are worrisome and often times, there are grievances, comic irony does not make us depressed. We are able to maintain hope because the issues are shown lightly. But irony also makes us think about things we usually ignore or don't want to face.


@fBoyle-- Yes, that's irony. Especially if the story led you to believe that the ending would be different or if you knew more than what the characters knew.

In a way, this could be considered cosmic irony, where events and actions have the opposite effect because of divine intervention or because of destiny or fate. One could say that the characters were not meant to be together and the things they did to be together had the opposite effect.


If a story ends differently than what I expected, is this irony? For example, I watched a film where a boy and girl were in love and were planning to get married. But at the end of the film, it turned out that she got married to someone else. Is this irony?

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