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A mode of expression, through words or events, conveying a reality different from and usually opposite to appearance or expectation. Writers may say the opposite of what they mean, create a reversal between expectation and its fulfillment, or give the audience knowledge that a character lacks, making the character's words have meaning to the audience not perceived by the character. Irony is the most common and most efficient technique of the satirist, because it is an instrument of truth, provides wit and humor, and is usually a least obliquely crtical, in that it deflates, scorns, or attacks (Harris).

The importance of irony in modern art and literature and, more latterly in the intelectural sciences and in culture generally, can hardly be overestimated. For some writers the cultivation of irony is the most essential qualification for any thought, any art or literature or social or political therory to be truly modern. Charles Lemert refers to irony as discursive form of post modern social therory. He claims that irony is the only and necessary attitude for theroy today, and that postmodernism is an ironic general theory. But, other writers have noted the cancerous growth in the use of irony in art and literature. We have associated irony easily with humour, but we have recognise. Irony can be bitter and even tragic. It corrodes and undermines pretensions, unmask appearances, and deconstructs

Verbal Irony

Is often tongue-in-cheek, involves a discrepancy between the literal words and what is actually meant ( "Here's some news that will make you sad. You received the highest grade in the course"). If the ironic comment is designed to be hurtful or insulting, it qualifies as sarcasm (Congratulations! You failed the final exam") (Nadell 615).

Dramatic Irony

The discrepancy is between what the speaker says and what the author means or what the author knows. The wider the gap between the speaker's words and what can be inferred about the author's attitudes and values, the more ironic the point of view. An example where the audience has knowledge that gives additional meaning to a character's words would be when King Oedipus, who has unknowingly killed his father, says that he will banish his father's killer when he finds him (Nadell 615).

Situation Irony

An example of situational irony would occur if a professional pickpocket had his own pocket picked just as he was in the act of picking someone else's pocket. The irony is generated by the surprise recognition by the audience of a reality in contrast with expectation or appearance, while another audience, victim, or character puts confidence in the appearance as reality (in this case, the pickpocket doesn't expect his own pocket to be picked). The surprise recognition by the audience often produces a comic effect, making irony often funny (Harris).

Works Cited

  • Nadell, Judith., Linda McMeniman, and John Langan. The Longman Writer: Rhetoric, Reader, Handbook. 5th ed. New York: Longman, 2003.

  • Harris, Robert. "Evaluating Internet Research Sources." Virtualsalt. 17 Nov. 1997, 14 Feb. 2006.
  • Reuben, Paul P. "PAL: Appendix G: Elements of Fiction." PAL: Prespectives in American Literature-A reseach and Reference Guide. June 22, 2005.
  • PMLA publications of the Modern Language Association of America; Jan 2006, Vol. 121, Iss 1; pg 214

PAL: Appendix G

Literary Terms