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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.
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.
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.