Fiction Paper #1 How Ironic Is That? Everyday Ironies and Literature Flipping from channel to channel, talk shows dominate the line-up during daytime television programming. Stopping to listen, another Susie May takes her place on stage, eyes glazed over, preparing to tell the audience her story and inform her lover of some affair or scandal. Unaware of the heart-breaking situation, a clueless John sits in a back room awaiting his entrance to the stage.
Ironically, John prepares to inform Susie May that he has been pursuing an affair with her best friend all along. Forms of irony can be found everywhere we look. Irony, as defined by Michael Meyer, is "a device that reveals a reality different from what appears to be true" (Meyer 285). In the talk show industry, the producers look for the most controversial and unexpected love triangles to spice up an otherwise ordinary show. In the same way, authors use dramatic, situational, and verbal irony to create a much more interesting plot for their readers.
According to Meyer, "dramatic irony creates a discrepancy between what a character believes or says and what the reader understands to be true" (286). In a talk show, this form of irony appears when Susie May tries to explain how classy and respectable she is while using fowl language and inappropriate gestures. In "Who's Irish?" , irony appears as a Chinese grandmother struggles to tame the rebellious nature of her half-Irish, half-Chinese granddaughter. Throughout the story, the grandmother describes actions she takes to keep control of her granddaughter's "Irish" tendencies.
While attempting to lure her granddaughter out of a hole, she says: I poke some more, even harder, so that I am poking and poking when my daughter and John suddenly appear. What are you doing? What is going on? Say my daughter.
Put down that stick! say my daughter. You are crazy! say my daughter. (184) While the grandmother conveys the necessity to poke her granddaughter harder and harder, her abusive tendencies become apparent through the reaction of the girl's mother. As the grandmother narrates the events in "Who's Irish?" , she slants the truth in her favor, dramatic irony at its finest.
As Meyer continues to define irony, he states that "situational irony exists when there is an incongruity between what is expected to happen and what actually happens" (285). This is probably the most controversial use of irony in talk shows today. Producers create an environment where Susie May is ready to tell John of her affair, when in fact he is there to tell her of his affair. However, in literature, situational irony can be much subtler. In "Class", Sherman Alexie describes a Native American man who spends his time attempting to revisit his roots by pursuing activities with people of similar ethnicity.
In a desperate attempt to experience sexual activities with another Native American, he orders an indigenous prostitute who turns out to be as white as his Caucasian wife. When the prostitute comments on his ethnicity, he only admits to being "mostly" Indian (643). Though this might not be considered the most blatant use of situational irony, the man's hesitance to claim full status as a Native American proves to be the opposite response of someone who would seek to be recognized as an Indian. In spite of the fact that it is already established that the main character is completely Native American, Alexie chooses to have him falsify his answer to create a situation where he refuses the identity he so desperately craves. Another form of irony, verbal irony, happens when a person says one thing but means the total opposite (285).
Revisiting the talk show, verbal irony could be compared to Susie May telling John that she hates him while hugging and kissing him as they make up after an emotional bout. However, Kate Chopin's "Story of an Hour" presents a much more dreary use of verbal irony. In this narrative, a woman rejoices over the news of her husband's death, feeling freed from under his oppression. Surprisingly, the husband arrives at the front door, provoking a fatal heart attack in his wife. The last line of the story reads, "when the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease - of joy that kills (14). Evidently, the wife died from the despair of knowing her husband was still alive, not from jubilance.
To avoid confusion, Chopin uses verbal irony to reaffirm any doubt that the wife might have been happy to see her husband. Dramatic, situational, and verbal irony can be the little bit that causes a reader to think, the subtle detail that helps develop a story, or the extra spice that completes a story. In "Who's Irish?" , the narration of the grandmother leads the reader to think she is caring and considerate, while the reactions of those around her prove she is nothing of the sort. "Class" uses situational irony to help develop the character's personality by highlighting his indecisive behavior.
In "Story of an Hour", the last, ironic line in the work helps to add a little bit of clarification to the plot while emphasizing its twisted ending. Whether found on the pixels of a television screen or on the ink-pressed pages of a piece of literature, irony helps to flavor what would normally be considered just another story.
Meyer, Michael. The Bedford Introduction To Literature. 6th Edition. Boston, MA: 2002. pp. 12-286.