Mr. Curran’s AP Lit. Class, Unit 3
Credit to Don L. F. Nilsen
and Alleen Pace Nilsen
Irony: A Definition
1. Explain “eiron” and “irony”
2. What is dramatic, situational, and verbal irony?
3. Who is Chauncy Gardner?
4. Explain the irony of “A Rose for Emily,” “Battle Royal,” “Lust,”
“How To Tell True War Stories,” The Rape of the Lock,” “A Good
Man is Hard to Find,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “Richard Cory,” “AD,”
“Next To Of Course God America I,” and “A Man Said to the
5. Contrast linguistic and situational irony
6. Contrast irony (gallows humor) and satire
7. What is socratic irony?
8. Contrast stable irony and observable irony
9. Explain tragic irony
The word irony is related to the Greek eiron meaning “dissembler in speech.”
In modern usage it commonly refers to speech incidents in which the intended
meaning of the words is contrary to their literal interpretation or to the
expected meaning.
In conversations, people are often aware that they are being ironic when, for
example, they want to change the subject and they begin with, “Not to change
the subject, but….”
Similarly, a speaker who wants to emphasize a point he is making starts with fake
humility: “Far be it from me to say, but …..”
Someone with an unproven argument might begin with, “Clearly …”, or “As is well
(Nilsen & Nilsen Encyclopedia 168)
Johnny Carson kept a toilet company from using the “Here’s
Johnny” as a trademark.
They had the slogan, “The World’s Foremost Commodian.”
The judge decided in favor of Carson not because of an
invasion of privacy, or because of a demeaning of the
plaintiff’s reputation, but because the “Here’s Johnny”
toilets might be confused with the “Here’s Johnny” clothing
and restaurants.
(Nilsen & Nilsen 190)
Three Basic Forms of Irony
 Verbal
 Situational
 Dramatic
Verbal Irony
 Irony based on language used, usually saying
something that is clearly not the case.
 Also known as Sarcasm
 You are arguing with your mother, who reprimands you
for being "smart." Your reply is a sarcastic, "If you think I
am smart, then why won't you let me make some smart
Verbal Irony
 Your boyfriend shows up in ripped up jeans and a
stained t-shirt. With a smirk, you say, "Oh! I see you
dressed up for our date. We must be going to a posh
Situational Irony
 An example of Irony usually using setting, characters,
or plot twists which draw contrast between the two.
 Dead Like Me reference
 You break a date with your girlfriend so you can go to the
ball game with the guys. When you go to the concession
stand, you run into your date who is with another guy.
Situational Irony
 You stay up all night studying for a test. When you go to
class, you discover the test is not until the next day.
 You break a date with your girlfriend so you can go to the
ball game with the guys. When you go to the concession
stand, you run into your date who is with another guy.
Dramatic irony occurs when
the audience members know
things that the characters do
not know.
Dramatic Irony
 Have you ever seen a horror movie that has a killer on
the loose? You, and the rest of the audience, know that
the teenagers should not go walking in the woods late at
night, but they think a midnight stroll would be
romantic. Needless to say, the teens become the next
Dramatic Irony
 When watching a talk show, the audience knows why a
person has been brought on the show. However, the
person sitting in a chair does not know that he is going
to be reunited with a former lover. This adds to the
suspense and humor of the show.
 In George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara,
Unterschaft asks Bilton, the foreman, if anything
is wrong, and Bilton responds that a “gentleman
walked into the shed and lit a cigarette, sir; that’s
 The stage directions are that Bilton is to say this
“with ironic calm.”
 The irony is obvious only when the audience
learns that the shed is filled with high explosives.
 (Nilsen & Nilsen Encyclopedia 169)
 Jerzy Kosinski’s novel and the movie Being There. is
about a mentally disabled gardener named Chauncey
 Those around him treat him as though he is a sage and
a great visionary. They supply grandiose metaphorical
meanings for what are the simple and sometimes inane
observations of an ordinary gardener. (Nilsen & Nilsen
Encyclopedia 169)
The period in literary history in which irony was
most developed was the Age of the Enlightenment,
the time of Voltaire, Hume, Pope, Dryden, Swift,
Addison, Steele, and Diderot
However, irony has been included in literature
throughout history. In Chaucer’s 14th-century
Canterbury Tales, an unhappily married merchant
grandly praises marriage.
 In William Shakespeare’s 16th-century Julius
Caesar, Marc Antony’s extravagant praise of Caesar
is ironic.
 Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century “Modest Proposal”
suggests the English begin eating Irish babies was
in no sense modest.
 An additional irony is that some of Swift’s
opponents read his ironic proposal as legitimate
rather than ironic and attempted to have Swift
committed as mentally ill.
 (Nilsen & Nilsen Encyclopedia 169)
Critic Northrop Frye makes a distinction between satire and irony. He
says that satire is a criticism of society with a clear understanding in the
author’s mind of what society should be like, but is not.
The author of a satire hopes to persuade readers to work for the author’s
vision as does C.S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters.
Those who create gallows humor and irony do not intend to point their
readers in a particular direction, but instead to leave them in doubt.
As Frye says, “Whenever a reader is not sure what the author’s attitude is
or what his own is supposed to be, we have irony with relatively little
satire” (Frye 131-239).
Many modern critics make only the two-way distinction between linguistic and
situational irony.
Linguistic irony requires a sender and a receiver, while situational irony requires
only an observer with a clever mind as when Lily Tomlin buys a waste basket.
The clerk puts it into a paper sack so she can take it home, and the first thing
Tomlin does when she gets home is to put the paper sack into the waste basket.
Derek Evans and Dave Fulwiler’s Who’s Nobody in America is filled with such
ironic complaints as the one from James M. Gatwood of San Ramon, California.
In seven visits to his dentist he spent $2,800 and the dentist still calls him
Sidney. Gatwood asks in frustration, “Who the hell is Sidney?”
(Nilsen & Nilsen Encyclopedia 168)
There is double irony in O. Henry’s story “The Gift of the Magi”
in which a husband sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s
hair and she sells her hair to buy a gold chain for his watch.
This is similar to the joke about the two friends, one a Catholic
and one a Protestant, who try to convert each other.
They present such convincing arguments that the Protestant
becomes a Catholic and the Catholic becomes a Protestant.
(Nilsen & Nilsen Encyclopedia 169).
 Socratic irony occurs when a person pretends to be
ignorant and willing to learn from another, but then
asks adroit questions that expose the weaknesses in
the other person’s argument.
 (Nilsen & Nilsen Encyclopedia 169)
 LiteraryIRONY
critic Wayne
Booth uses theIRONY
term stable irony to
refer to that which humans create to be heard or read and
understood with some precision. He says that stable ironies
allow readers glimpses into authors’ most private thoughts.
 An example of Observable irony is when a premature
monsoon ruins an army’s invasion plans or lightning strikes
just as a preacher raises his arms to make a dramatic point
about God.
 In such situations, all that is needed is an aware observer.
Writers and dramatists often work such observable ironies
into their plots (Nilsen & Nilsen Encyclopedia 169).
Tragic irony is used for
situations where there are
terrible consequences, as in the
Greek drama Oedipus Rex.
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ALANIS MORISSETTE: “Ironic” Song with Lyrics:
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