1. What is it?

Irony exists in many forms, all of which work around the idea of a thing being one manner on the surface but much different – or even the opposite – underneath.

Irony is used in all literature, but especially novels.

Verbal ironySay one thing, but deliberately mean its opposite. Verbal irony is different from sarcasm because sarcasm is based on mocking and belittling.
Cosmic ironyWhen fate causes human actions aimed at improving matters to actually make them worse.
Socratic ironyParty A feigns ineptitude so that Party B fulfils Party A’s plan and defeats itself.
Situational ironyA statement that appears true is proven to be wrong by the more examples it gives.
Dramatic ironyThe reader knows a situation a character does not, and watches the character unwittingly act in ways that make the situation worse.

2. Why use it?

Create comedy or humorous situations.Make fate and decisions conspire against a character.

3. Examples

The man with the gun took Walt’s wallet and shoes, before telling the victim he was fat and pushing him over. As Walt got off the floor, he noticed stains on his trousers. Then, it started to rain.
When he got home, his wife looked at this sorry mess.
‘What a beautiful holiday,’ Walt announced.
(verbal irony)

Hu informed us he had joined the army because his life was tedious. The irony was that waiting in those wet trenches was the most boring activity known to man.
(cosmic irony)

“You need to spend less time online” the teacher said, but none of the students listened. Thus that night the teacher turned on his computer and joined the group chat, spending two hours discussing the need to be offline.
(situational irony)

Mr Hughes told the board he had decided to promote Zoe due to her trustworthiness.
“It will be a big shock for her.”
The board agreed.
It was just then that Anthony walked past and overheard. He rushed back to the office.
“They are going to fire you!”
So it was that afternoon that an infuriated Zoe decided to leak the blueprints to their competitors.
“That will show the bastards how important I am” she told herself.
(dramatic irony)

“I didn’t do it. It was the cat!”
Dad looked at the broken bottle, then his daughter. He knew she was lying.
“We will need to punish it,” he decided.
Wendy began to feel guilty. She pleaded for her dad to not punish the beast too heavily, but her father was adamant.
“But it is bad enough that it had to spend all morning in the rain! Must be punished too?”
“If it was in the rain all morning, how did it break the bottle?”
(Socratic irony)

4. Examples in literature

by Kurt Vonnegut

Know Your Book

Title: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death
Author: Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
Published: 1969
Language: English
Genre: Fiction; satire; science fiction; comedy; meta fiction
Plot: Billy Pilgrim is a cowardly soldier in WWII. Another soldier wants revenge against him, but before this happens Billy is transported forward in time to the Dresden bombings. He builds a new life, but years later is abducted by aliens and put in a zoo with a porn star. Further time travel events occur, putting Billy in a plane crash, back in Dresden, and in touch with his own death. As Billy travels, the scars of WWII and writings of a bad science fiction author follow him.
Setting: The Battle of the Bulge; Dresden bombings; planet of Tralfamadore; various hospitals; New York
Characters: Billy Pilgrim; Valencia; Barbara; Eliot Rosewater; Tralfamadorians; Kilgore Trout

Excerpt from Chapter 2:

One time on manoeuvres Billy was playing ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God,’ with music by Johann Sebastian Bach and words by Martin Luther. It was Sunday morning. Billy and his chaplain had gathered a congregation of about fifty soldiers on a Carolina hillside. An umpire appeared. There were umpires everywhere, men who said who was winning or losing the theoretical battle, who was alive and who was dead.
The umpire had comical news. The congregation had been theoretically spotted from the air by a theoretical enemy. They were all theoretically dead now. The theoretical corpses laughed and ate a hearty noontime meal.
Remembering this incident years later, Billy was struck by what a Tralfamadorian adventure with death that had been, to be dead and to eat at the same time.
Toward the end of manoeuvres, Billy was given an emergency furlough home because his father, a barber in Ilium, New York, was shot dead by a friend while they were out deer hunting. So it goes.

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. What is being described within the first two paragraphs?
2. What do the umpires do?
3. How do the soldiers react to the umpire’s news?
4. Why did Billy have to be taken home? 
Identifying Techniques

5. Why does the writer mention the music’s name, writer, and lyricist?
6. Which events in the passage could be seen as ironic?
7. What type of irony is being used? 
Text Analysis

8. How does the writer heighten the contrast between the military exercise and soldiers’ reality within the first two paragraphs?
9. The second paragraph suggests a bonding experience for the soldiers. Over what two things could a reader assume they are bonding?
10. What contrast exists between the description of the ‘theoretical’ deaths and genuine death in the passage?
11. What effect is achieved by the last sentence in the passage? 
Provoking Opinion

12. The passage does not describe how Billy felt at the end of it. How do you think he felt?
13. Is it important for new military members to do training, even if it is for events that may never happen or seem absurd?
14. Can you think of an example of this type of irony that has occurred within your own life?

The Metamorphoses
by Ovid

Know Your Book

Title: Metamorphōseōn (*trans: The Metamorphoses)
Author: Ovid (43 BC-17 or 18 AD)
Published: 8 AD
Language: Latin
Genre: Poetry; narrative poem; epic
Synopsis: A broad collection of over 250 stories, myths and narratives from across Greek and Roman culture and mythology. The entries cover concepts as diverse as the mythological stages of mankind, the battles of Greek heroes, and the exaltation of Julius Caesar. Recurring themes without the collection are love and change. These changes are often literal, with people, gods and objects all changing forms.

Excerpt from Book the Sixth, Transformation of Arachne into a Spider (translated from Latin):

This the bright Goddess passionately mov’d,
With envy saw, yet inwardly approv’d.
The scene of heav’nly guilt with haste she tore,
Nor longer the affront with patience bore;
A boxen shuttle in her hand she took,
And more than once Arachne’s forehead struck.
Th’ unhappy maid, impatient of the wrong,
Down from a beam her injur’d person hung;
When Pallas, pitying her wretched state,
At once prevented, and pronounc’d her fate:
Live; but depend, vile wretch, the Goddess cry’d,
Doom’d in suspence for ever to be ty’d;
That all your race, to utmost date of time,
May feel the vengeance, and detest the crime.

Then, going off, she sprinkled her with juice,
Which leaves of baneful aconite produce.
Touch’d with the pois’nous drug, her flowing hair
Fell to the ground, and left her temples bare;
Her usual features vanish’d from their place,
Her body lessen’d all, but most her face.
Her slender fingers, hanging on each side
With many joynts, the use of legs supply’d:
A spider’s bag the rest, from which she gives
A thread, and still by constant weaving lives.

1. The passage primarily describes

a) Athena’s birth
b) a weaving contest
c) a council of the Gods
d) the death of Arachne
e) Arachne’s punishment

2. Which of the following is not present in this passage?

a) Irony
b) Hubris
c) Onomatopoeia
d) Rhyme
e) Pathos

3. The term ‘Pallas’ to describe Athena is an example of

a) epithet
b) anthropomorphism
c) hyperbole
d) analogy
e) metaphor

4. How does Athena’s mood change within the first stanza?

a) Joy to despair
b) Fury to sympathy
c) Pride to embarrassment
d) Spite to grace
e) Humour to mourning

5. Which of the following is present in both Slaughterhouse Five and the tale of Arachne?

a) Dramatic irony
b) Socratic irony
c) Verbal irony
d) Cosmic irony
e) Situational irony


5. Tasks

Task 1: Think of examples that showcase each type of irony.
Task 2: Create a short story in which dramatic or cosmic irony plays a role.