Irony is a powerful tool for expressing meaning, used both in writing and speech. Ironies can be divided into categories such as verbal irony which expresses an opinion about something by using the opposite of what you want to say or dramatic irony when events happen that are exactly how they’re supposed to play out but don’t because there has been some unexpected twist added into them somewhere along their course through life.
In literature, the most common forms of irony are verbal and dramatic ironies. Verbal irony is used when a person uses a different meaning than the one that’s generally understood from a sentence/phrase/word because it has been spoken bluntly or sarcastically. The use of verbal irony is often one of the most important aspects that can set apart a skilled writer from an average one.
Dramatic irony is when the reader has information about what’s going to happen, but everyone else in the story doesn’t so they’re surprised by this turn of events which would’ve seemed inevitable to the reader who knows what’s coming. Dramatic ironies are often used to create suspense in a story because you know something’s coming but the characters don’t.
Grammatical irony is when the intended meaning of a phrase/sentence is the opposite of what words are actually used to express it. This can be a useful tool for writers because readers usually hear everything that’s being said and then go back over it mentally once they’re finished reading to see if their assumptions about what was just communicated were correct.
One of my favorite dramatic ironies is from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, where the protagonist is talking with a disembodied raven who represents his deceased lover Lenore. The protagonist keeps asking for words about how he might find her. The raven gives these words to him but he doesn’t understand what they mean until it’s too late because the protagonist is so obsessed with finding his beloved.
Another example of dramatic irony is found in Shakespeare‘s Romeo and Juliet where Romeo thinks Juliet has passed after drinking a bottle (or two) of poison and kills himself. At the same time Juliet wakes up, sees his cold body and grabs a sword to kill herself but it’s too late for Romeo because he’d already died before she woke.
Another example is the novel Lord of the Flies where a group of boys are stranded on an island. They come across some strange fruit that one boy, Ralph, wants to eat but the reader knows it’s actually poison because they’ve all been told about how dangerous and deadly it can be. The other boys don’t believe him at first so he doesn’t eat it and is saved but they end up dying because of their ignorance.
An example of verbal irony found in literature is from the novel Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: “I like to see a guy peak (reach his peak, or goal). Makes me feel better about myself.” This sentence might seem like George is complimenting Lennie but it’s actually said in a bitter tone because he thinks Lennie is so stupid.
Another example of verbal irony in literature can be found in the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell when two people are talking about how kind and considerate Napoleon (the protagonist protagonist) is: “He’s much kinder than…than…than anyone else in the world!” This statement is ironic because Napoleon has been treating these animals horribly and they don’t realize it.