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Irony in Literature

Irony is a common tool used in literature to help tell a story. If you need a research paper that examines irony in a specific piece of literature, the writers at Paper Masters can explicate the tool of irony that many authors use.

Irony is a literary and rhetorical device in which a what appears on the surface is radically different from reality. Irony can be verbal, dramatic, or situational, often employing simile or sarcasm in order to emphasize disconnect. The term has roots in Greek theater, but came into English usage in the 16th century. In speech, “irony” is commonly confused and misused for the term “ironic.”

Types of Irony in Literature

Verbal irony is when a speaker makes a statement but employs language that is sharply different than the intended meaning, and is produced intentionally by the speaker. Below are some examples of irony in works of literature:

  • IronyA classic example of verbal irony occurs during Mark Antony’s speech (“Friends, Romans, countrymen…”) in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
  • Dramatic irony involves a situation where the audience is aware of information that the characters are not. For example, in Oedipus the King, the audience is aware that Oedipus is the murderer of his father, but he is not.
  • Situational irony, a modern interpretation, is a sharp discrepancy between expected results and actual results. O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi” is an example of situational irony.
  • One other form of irony involves the discrepancy between historical perspective and how people viewed the events first hand. The most telling example of historical irony was how World War I became known as “the war to end all wars,” but the very seeds of World War II were planted in that conflict.

Example of Irony in Literature

Gabriel García Márquez’s story “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” is a lesson in irony.  With its Kafkaesque imagery, Márquez is attempting to poke fun at mythology and religion.  In the midst of a biblical deluge, a supernatural creature appears, one would think, to bring hope and joy to the beleaguered family.  Instead, his impact is somewhat less-than-divine.  The “angel” appears to be a rather smelly old man with buzzard wings.  The couple believes that angels were “the fugitive survivors of a celestial conspiracy” and refuse to kill the being, locking him up in an ancient chicken coop.

As word of the angel’s presence spreads throughout the region, the villagers come to gawk and throw bits of food at the unfortunate creature, creating a circus-like atmosphere for which the couple start charging admission.  García Márquez is neatly and subtly satirizing the marriage of religious service and the collection plate.  The couple grows rich from the proceeds and is able to build a magnificent new house, in the same way the medieval Popes were able to sell indulgences and build St. Peter’s Basilica.  All is well until a competing freak (the spider-woman) arrives in town, offering a new spectacle at a lower price.  Here García Márquez comments on the arrival of evangelic missionaries who invade

Catholic countries in the hopes of “Christianizing” the natives. Soon the parish priest arrives and suspects a fraud, because the angel does not respond to Latin or recognize a minister of God.  The priest writes to Rome for final judgment, injecting his letters with traditional, somewhat absurd theological musings on the supposed abilities of angels (i.e., dancing on the head of a pin).  The priest eventually gives up because “nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels”.

Everyone in the village is an “expert” on angels; what they should look like, how they talk, and how they should smell.  When confronted with the real thing, they all seem disappointed.  One would expect such “true believers” to be disappointed upon meeting God Himself in the afterlife.  He might not measure up to their expectations.

The angel performs miracles for the curious: the blind man who grows three new teeth, the paralytic who almost wins the lottery, and the leper whose sore sprouts sunflowers.  One wonders if these consolation miracles are intended to drive away his tormentors, or if these are the best he can do.  He does not seem to be in the best of shape to begin with.

The crowds go away and the family is left with their decrepit house guest, who creates “hell full of angels” before growing new wings and flying away.  Much like the real Christ, who was ignored and abused during his time on earth.

Related Research Paper Topics

Irony in A Good Man is Hard to Find essays examine the short story written by Flannery O'Connor.

Brooks' Irony as a Principle of Structure - A major figure of New Criticism, Cleanth Brooks argues in this essay Irony as a Principle of Structure, that irony serves as one of the major tools by which meaning can be embedded in a poetic text.

Foreshadowing and Irony in Flannery O'Connor's Work Research Papers look at her works like A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

Satire research papers look into the form of humor, often found in literature, but also in the graphic and performing arts, in which individuals, notions, and behaviors are held up for ridicule.