Literary Devices

Irony



What is it?

Irony is a disagreement or incongruity between what is said and what is understood, or what is expected and what actually occurs. Irony can be used intentionally or can happen unintentionally.


Why is it important?

Authors can use irony to make their audience stop and think about what has just been said, or to emphasize a central idea. The audience's role in realizing the difference between what is said and what is normal or expected is essential to the successful use of irony.


How do I do it?

Create a discrepancy between what is expected and what actually happens, as in these examples. Verbal irony is type of irony that we have not focused on here, but you can learn more about it at the second link, below, under "More about irony."

Example 1:

In the short story "The Gift of the Magi," a young couple is too poor to buy each other Christmas gifts. The man sells his pocket watch to buy his wife a set of combs for her long, beautiful hair. She, meanwhile, cuts off her beautiful hair and sells it to a wig-maker for money to buy her husband a watch-chain.

—O. Henry, "The Gift of the Magi"

Note: The author uses irony in this story to compel the reader to stop and think about love, sacrifice and what is truly valuable.

Example 2:

Ozymandias

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor knew well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that collosal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

—Percy Bysshe Shelley

Note: In this poem, Shelley portrays an ironic situation. The quote within the poem was not ironic at the time of its inscription; rather, the situation became ironic over time as the "works" that Ozymandias believed were great and intimidating eventually disappeared into ruins.


More about irony

http://web.uvic.ca/wguide/Pages/LTIrony.html

http://www.k-state.edu/english/baker/english320/cc-verbal_irony.htm