Difference between Situational, Dramatic and Verbal Irony in Literature

Difference between Situational, Dramatic and Verbal Irony in Literature

Irony is a key element in Literature which gives meaning to creative writing. There’s no Literary piece which one cannot find an irony in it. Writers use irony to create humour and suspense as well as making an emphasis on a particular subject.

Irony draws attention to a plot of a story, character trait, or thematic argument to bring out incongruity of situations. Irony is therefore defined as an expression other than or opposite of its literal meaning. It can also be defined as a literary device or technique that is in contrasts with expectations and reality.

Difference between Situational, Dramatic and Verbal Irony

Situational irony, dramatic irony and verbal irony are three types of Irony in Literature. Each type serves a different purpose.

Situational Irony is a type of irony which occurs when an expected outcome is subverted and its opposite happens in a literary piece.

Read On: Definition Of Irony in Literature and its three main types with examples made easy for students

Purpose of Situational Irony

The purpose of situational irony is to create the unexpected in a story. Having the unexpected occurrence in a story can help a writer create multi-dimensional characters, change tones, develop the genre and themes, and show the reader that appearance does not always match reality.

For example Harper Lee in a situational irony takes readers by surprise and prompts them to reflect on the complexity of Boo Radley as a character instead of using dialogue to show Boo’s Character as a nice person.

In similar story telling manner William Shakespeare used Situational irony to make the story, Romeo and Juliet (1597), a tragic one which subverted the outcome readers were actually thinking.

The exceptional lōve of Romeo and Juliet who are from rivalry families gives the readers hope that their lõve will conquer all for them to live happily together by the end of the story. Unfortunately, when Romeo sees Juliet under the influence of a potion that makes her appear deàd, he k!lls himself. When Juliet also wakes up to find Romeo deàd, she equally k!lls herself.

This is an outcome contrary to “happily ever after” ending that you may hope to find in a rõmance, making Romeo and Juliet’s lõve story a tragedy. Situational irony allows Shakespeare to portray the tragic, complex nature of lõve. This is also an example of dramatic irony because, unlike Romeo, the reader knows that Juliet is not really deàd.

Effects of Situational Irony

Situational irony has many effects on a text and the reading experience, as it influences the reader’s engagement, understanding, and expectations.

The main effect of situational irony is that it surprises the reader. This surprise can keep the reader engaged in a text and encourage them to read on. Situational irony gives a shocking plot twist to make the reader want to find out what happens next. Situational irony can also help readers better understand a theme or character in a text.

Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).

In this story, the children Scout and Jem are scared of the neighborhood recluse, Boo Radley. They have heard negative gossip about Boo, and they are scared of the Radley house. In Chapter 6, Jem’s pants get stuck in the Radley’s fence, and he leaves them there. Later, Jem goes back to get them and finds them folded over the fence with stitches in them, suggesting that someone fixed them up for him. At this point in the story, the characters and the reader do not expect Radley to be kind and compassionate, making this a case of situational irony.

The way Boo mended Jem’s pants in “To Kill a Mockingbird” shows readers that Boo is nicer than they expected. The shock that Boo is a kind person, unlike the dangerous, mean person that the townspeople think he is, makes readers reflect on the practice of judging people based on what they hear about them. Learning not to judge people is a critical lesson in the book. Situational irony helps to effectively convey this important message.

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Situational Irony: Examples

There are a lot of examples of situational irony in famous works of literature.

Lois Lowry’s novel, The Giver (1993).

The Giver is set in a dystopian community where everything is done according to a strict set of rules. People rarely make mistakes or break the rules, and when they do, they are punished. It is particularly rare for the elders who run the community to break the rules. But, during the Ceremony of the Twelve, an annual ceremony during which twelve-year-olds are assigned jobs, the elders skip the main character Jonas. This confuses the reader, Jonas, and all of the characters, because it is not at all what anyone was expecting. Something happened that was completely different than what was expected, making this an example of situational irony.

In Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953).

In this story, firemen are people who set books on fire. This is situational irony because readers expect firemen to be people who put out fires, not people who set them. By drawing this contrast between what the reader expects and what actually happens, the reader better understands the dystopian world the book is set in.

It is key to note that Situational irony is when one expects one thing to happen, but something completely different happens based under the situation or condition. It is always different from what one completely thinks.

Dramatic irony: ls also known as tragic irony. This is an irony that readers, watchers or audience are fully aware of the events in a play, story or drama that the characters are not aware of. This seems simple because many of us in our favourite soap operas are aware of characters intentions but Characters are unaware. For example in Brothers (FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano) President Oscar Hidalgo is unaware of Vice President Lucas Cabrera intentions to overthrow him to be the president of the Philippines but watchers are fully aware.

Dramatic Irony is an irony that readers, watchers or audience are fully aware of the events in a play, story or drama that the characters are not aware of.

Simply put, this type of irony occurs when the audience knows something that the main characters of a story do not. The meaning of dramatic irony is similar to situational irony. However, with dramatic irony, the audience or reader knows something that the main or other characters do not. The fact that the reader is aware of something that the character isn’t creates drama, tension and suspense as you root for the character to “figure it out.”

In the cases of dramatic irony, the story may turn out well in the end. A subset of dramatic irony is tragic irony. As the name implies, this is a case where all does not end well for the character. The audience is still privy to more information than the character and are aware that the character’s lack of information is what will lead to the tragic end.

For example, in William Shakespeare’s Othello (1603), Othello trusts Iago—but the audience knows better. Another example of dramatic irony is the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex (circa 429 BCE) by Sophocles, where the audience knows the main character’s tragic fate before he does.

Purpose of Dramatic Irony

The purpose of dramatic irony in creative writing or a story is to engage the reader with Characters secret, minds and motives. The writer does this by privileging the reader with information that the characters do not have. This creates a sense of tension between what the reader knows and how the characters behave in the story.

When the reader is aware of what is going to happen, they are more invested in each step that leads toward it, especially when the character appears to misstep or misunderstand. A writer can use this tension to build suspense, create contrast, or offer humour.

In writing, dramatic irony can be more subtle, and it may take many chapters for a situation to reveal its whole truth. The longer the dramatic irony is drawn out, the higher the stakes feel to the reader.

In the preparation stage, the audience receives information some of the characters don’t have. In Romeo and Juliet, the reader knows that Juliet’s “poison” is actually an elixir that will make her appear deàd. This is quietly demonstrated to the reader, but no other characters especially Romeo, who is not aware of this truth.

The suspense is the way the story plays out based on the information readers know, and how the characters are acting. It’s often during the suspense phase that the consequence of the audience’s knowledge is revealed, and all readers can do is to read on to find out what happens next.

In the resolution phase, the full significance of the character’s ignorance is revealed. This moment can be shocking, tragic, or comical.

Dramatic Irony: Examples

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Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

One of the most famous and straightforward examples of dramatic irony is in Romeo and Juliet, where the titular characters die by suicide because they don’t know each other’s plans. Meanwhile, the reader is drenched in a sense of dread, knowing all along how the tragic ending could be prevented.

The Odyssey, by Homer

In Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, Odysseus returns in disguise to his wife, Penelope, in order to test her faithfulness. The reader is privy to the plan, creating a sense of suspense as they wonder how Penelope will behave.

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five is rife with dramatic irony, as its main character jumps back and forth in time, allowing the reader glimpses into the future. At one point, one of the characters describes the movement of American prisoners into Dresden, saying:

“You needn’t worry about bombs, by the way. Dresden is an open city. It is undefended, and contains no war industries or troop concentration of any importance.”

By this point, the reader is well aware that Dresden will, in fact, suffer a massive firebombing attack.

Effect of Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony has an effect on story telling since the audience is privy to information that Characters of the story do not have, it creates tension, suspense, or humour to encourage audience to get glued to the story to reach the end which is often tragic.

Importance of Dramatic

Writers use dramatic irony to create tension, suspense, or humour. It encourages the readers to read on to know what the naive character will do and how it will end for the Character. It teaches one not to trust so wholeheartedly because as others have good minds there are those closer who wants your bad.

Rules for structuring dramatic irony

Decide what information the reader needs to know: This knowledge will be carried with the reader throughout the story, so it should reflect a central tension in the story.

Expose the character’s ignorance: Demonstrate to the reader that they know something the character doesn’t. This can be shown through dialogue, behaviour, or by placing them in a situation where they would benefit from the knowledge. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; you can embed the dramatic irony in a sentence or two.

Decide how long to keep the character in the dark: The longer the situation drags out, the higher the stakes become.

Stage the resolution: There are many ways the truth can be revealed to the characters in the story so make sure that the scene reflects the effect intended to create. If the situation is to generate humour, then don’t resolve things by hurting the characters (unless you’re going for dark humour). On the flip side, if a story is meant to be a tragedy, don’t resolve the dramatic irony with a minor misunderstanding.

Dramatic irony in simple definition is a writing technique where a writer reveals information to the reader, but not to the characters.

Also Read: 34 Imagery or Figures Of Speech every student must know

Verbal Irony Meaning

Verbal irony: Is a statement in which the speaker’s words are in sharp contrast with the intent of the speaker. These are statements which are incongruous with the speaker’s intent. This is when the character intends a meaning that is in contrast with the literal or usual meaning of the words.

Verbal irony is a statement in which the speaker’s words are in sharp contrast with the intended meaning of the speaker.

A speaker says one thing while meaning another, resulting in an ironic clash between their intended meaning and their literal meaning. Verbal irony examples occur when a character says one thing but actually means the opposite. It occurs often in the form of sarcasm or dry humour. However, it can also be more subtle and foreboding.

Verbal Irony: Examples

If you see someone with pimples all over her face and you ask the person her face has become smooth like a baby, what kind of facial cream is she using, you want to buy some. This is sarcasm, the person might even feel insulted by your words.

If someone is looking out the window at gloomy, rainy weather and they exclaim “What a beautiful day!” or, if you are always late to class but tell your friends that you are going to “surely win the school award for punctuality”. These are clear examples of the intended meaning being the opposite.

Verbal irony has been used skillfully by many writers throughout history. A famous example is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” (1729). In this classic work of satire, Swift uses verbal irony to make the reader believe that his “modest proposal” to eradicate poverty in Ireland is a sound argument.

In reality it is sickening and outrageous, but Swift achieves his goal of pointing out the callous exploitation of the poor in Ireland by the rich elites and landowners.

It is worth noting that there are categories of verbal irony, its subcategories are: sarcasm, understatement, overstatement and Socratic irony. Named for the famous ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, Socratic irony is when a character will feign or pretend ignorance when asking a question in order to lead the person answering to expose their own ignorance.

This is often employed by skillful lawyers in a courtroom drama. Socrates himself used this technique or the socratic method to teach his students, stimulate critical thinking and lead them to a deeper understanding.

Effect Of Verbal Irony

Verbal Irony is mostly used in literary piece to show a sarcastic meaning or to present an hyperbolic meaning to what the speaker intended to say. This is often done to ridicule or to make less or politely make a Character feels less humiliated or bad. It gives a witty understanding to shape how readers speak and understand things.

Purpose or Importance of Verbal Irony

It makes a character painfully hurt when realising he or she is being ridiculed or it makes them warmly accept a sad reality without feeling bad if the awkward is said in a plain language.

It creates humour so it exhibits the comic nature of a play or a story to encourage audience or readers to watch or read on.

Verbal Irony comes down to the difference between literal and actual meaning. In some cases, verbal irony is used to create humour, pass judgment on something, and grab someone’s attention. It is never used accidentally due to the fact that it only occurs when the speaker is aware they’re using it. If the speaker isn’t trying to be ironic, then they aren’t being. The technique is often used in dialogue in poems, plays, novels, in the script of films and television shows, and short stories.

Verbal irony in other way is a figure of speech in which the speaker intends to be understood as meaning something that contrasts with the literal or usual meaning of what he says. The different sorts of discrepancy between the meaning of what is said and what is in fact on the particular occasion meant with it give rise to different kinds of verbal irony:

These are the different between the three forms of Irony in Literature that writers employ to make a literary piece meaningful while creating suspense and twist in plots.


Joyceline Natally Cudjoe

An Entertainment Columnist, Content Writer, Blogger, Novelist, Poet, and a Publicist. For business or story tip off, contact me on +233 24 646 6866 or email: [email protected]

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