W102- Irony Sheet (Fall 08)

W102- Irony Sheet (Fall 08) - 1

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Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Ironing—er,  Irony The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms defines irony in a broad sense as “ a subtly humorous perception of inconsistency, in which an apparently straightforward statement or event is undermined by its context so as to give it a very different significance ” (Baldick 130). All forms of irony thus involve recognizing some kind of disparity or gap, usually between an apparent surface and an actual reality. While common in literature, irony is not merely a literary technique; forms of it pervade conversation, argument, and perception. Here are five types of irony: (#1) Verbal irony can be defined as expressing your meaning by saying the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect (that is, to be funny or to emphasize your point) . I said that all forms of irony involve some kind of noticeable disparity—in verbal irony, that disparity is between what someone says and what he/she actually means . It can be helpful to think of verbal irony as sarcasm , only subtler. For example, imagine a friend says about a class, “Oh, that class is great . I love that class. It’s so exciting.” That’s obviously sarcasm: the extra emphasis your friend places on “great,” “love,” and “so” obviously indicate he/she doesn’t mean them. Verbal irony would be rather similar, just less obvious—imagine the same statement, just without the obvious sarcastic emphases. You might only know your friend is being ironic because you know him/her well or because you already know he/she didn’t enjoy the class. Because of its subtlety, verbal irony is not always noticed—we sometimes wrongly assume someone is in earnest when they are actually being ironic, or assume someone is being ironic when they are actually earnest. Often, we have to know the person—some people are ironic more often than they are earnest (we might say these people have an “ironic view of life”), and vice versa. The same is true of writers: for example, we might say that Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift have a primarily ironic view of the world (and for this we could call them “ ironists ”), while, say, Charles Dickens is generally more earnest. (#2) Dramatic irony is a literary technique, typically intended for humor or emphasis, exploiting a disparity between what a character says and either what it reveals about them OR what we as readers or audience members know about them/their fate . When dramatic irony is used in a poem or story, we listen to what a character says, but we don’t take their words at face value; instead, we try to figure out what their words reveal . In dramatic irony, a character says something, but we derive another meaning from it. Certain genres are rife with dramatic irony, including dramatic tragedies (Oedipus talks about finding the
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W102- Irony Sheet (Fall 08) - 1

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