Navigation

Follow Authorlink:

All about publishing a book, getting help to convert a PDF to eBook, and keeping up with publishing industry news

Irony: Saying the Opposite of What You Mean by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

Pub Date: Oct 1, 2013

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

October 2013

Watch for her insights every month on Authorlink

"Irony is a great way of writing something scathing in a detached way."
—Shapiro

Yes, that’s what irony is, the contrast between the way something seems to be or what it really is or what it is and what it ought to be instead or what it is and what it wishes to be or what it is and what one expects it to be.

Are you thoroughly confused? That’s irony. Here I am, supposedly clarifying a literary device and instead I’m throwing so much at you that the meaning is obscured. Irony. Let me try to be less ironic in my explanation. Irony is a great way of writing something scathing in a detached way, pretending that you’re feeling one way about a topic when it’s really the opposite. One of my favorite essays that employs irony is Nora Neale Thurston’s How it Feels to be Colored Me.

http://grammar.about.com/od/60essays/a/theireyesessay.htm The first very first sentence, its flat, understated tone, declares herself a person of color, and in a devastingly sarcastic, yet you can’t help laughing or at least smiling, says, “…but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief.” (Maybe I’m showing my age, but this is what black people used to say to elevate their status in a white person’s mind in an era when it was felt necessary.)

"In a work with which we’re all familiar, Romeo and Juliet, we are presented with a great example of verbal irony . . .”
—Shapiro

In a work with which we’re all familiar, Romeo and Juliet, we are presented with a great example of verbal irony (what is said) right in the prologue. “Two households, both alike in dignity…” This implies that the families are dignified, honorable, and at first we believe this. Then, when we see how they carry on their competitiveness, their useless feud despite the effect on their children, and how Lord Capulet tries to force his daughter to marry Paris, you get how much irony Shakespeare had up his sleeve.

"Situational irony can occur when the facts are known by the readers or audience but not be the characters."
—Shapiro

Situational irony, the situation being different than what would be dictated by common sense, occurs when Romeo and Juliet long to be together for eternity, and it happens, but the opposite of what they and the audience would have hoped, not with their wedding, but with their death. Situational irony can occur when the facts are known by the readers or audience but not be the characters. Didn’t you ever want to get up during a great production of Romeo and Juliet and shout, “No, Romeo, don’t take the poison. Juliet only took a sleeping potion. Wait! She’ll wake up.” You’re more affected knowing the truth than if it was something you found out afterwards.

Same in Hamlet. When the ghost of his father tells Hamlet that it wasn’t a snake that poisoned him as all Denmark believed, but Claudius who then married Gertrude and took the throne. All through the play, the audience is aware of Hamlet’s secret, and can understand his weird behavior, his outbursts, his treatment of Ophelia, as a result.

In Fitzgerald’sThe Great Gatsby, when Daisy calls her newborn daughter “a beautiful fool” and says that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world—a beautiful fool,” we know right away that this is irony. And yet, from a society woman’s point of view from that era when they could drink and Charleston and be giddy and gay, but not work at anything outside the house or be involved in the family finances, there was truth to it. So it’s both an example of verbal and situational irony.

There’s lot of labels for irony, but when you meet it, you know that it’s irony. If you’re not sure, than you can be sure that it isn’t.

About
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

 

 

 

 

 


Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is author of Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster) and has published essays in NYT (Lives), Newsweek (My Turn), et. al. Her essay, ESS, ESS, is just out in FEED ME: WRITERS DISH ABOUT FOOD, EATING, WEIGHT, AND BODY IMAGE, ed. by Harriet Brown (Random House, 2009). She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. She teaches Writing the Personal Essay at UCLA extension.