Definition of Situational Irony
Situational irony is a literary device that you can easily identify in literary works. Simply, it occurs when incongruity appears between expectations of something to happen, and what actually happens instead. Thus, entirely different happens from what audience may be expecting or the final outcome is opposite to what the audience is expecting. It is also known as irony of situations that generally include sharp contrasts and contradictions. The purpose of ironic situations is to allow the readers to make a distinction between appearances and realities, and eventually associate them to the theme of a story.
Examples of Situational Irony from Literature
Harry Potter series is one of the most popular novels having employed situational irony. Until seven novels, the audience believes that Harry can kill Voldemort, the evil lord. However, the audience is thrown off guard near the end of this series when it becomes clear that Harry must allow evil lord to kill him, so that Voldemort’s soul could become mortal once again. Hence, Harry allows himself to be killed in order to defeat Voldemort, which is exactly the opposite of the audience’s expectations. By using situational irony, Rowling has actually done a great job of adding a twist to the story to create a complex conflict.
(Harry Potter by J.K Rowling)
A very famous example of this form of irony occurs towards the end of a short story “The story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin. In this story, the wife of Mr. Brently comes to know that he is no more alive and has died from an accident, so she feels contended to live a long life with freedom, with no restrictions. However, at the end of the tale, her husband comes back unexpectedly and while seeing him, instantly she dies from this shock.
(The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin)
The whole story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” presents a case of the situational irony. Dorothy moves to the wizard in order to find a way to go her home just to learn that she was capable of doing so persistently. Scarecrow wished to become intelligent, but he discovers himself a perfect genius. Woodsman considers himself as not capable of love; nevertheless he learns that he has a good heart. Lion appears as a coward and then turns out to be an extremely fearless and courageous.
(The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum)
Romeo strives to bring out peace between Tybalt and Mercutio, and eventually between the Capulets and the Montagues. However, Mercutio’s death and subsequently Romeo’s pledge to kill Tybalt escalates a situation leading to his banishment and finally to the death of both Romeo and Juliet.
(Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare)
Eliot makes comparison between an evening with “a patient etherized upon a table.” By portraying a beautiful natural image and comparing it with a painful and difficult medical procedure of modern world, the poet makes use of situational irony for depicting a natural beauty’s loss in the corrupted world.
(The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S.Eliot)
The plot of the entire short story “The Necklace” is an example of the situational irony. For keeping up appearances, the leading character, Mathilda borrows a necklace from a wealthy friend but loses it. In order to return her friend’s necklace, she and her husband replace this jewel with another expensive one, however due to this replacement they went through a serious financial crisis. Years later, Mathilda meets this friend again, and learns that the jewelry she replaced with real and costly gemstones was merely a costume and artificial jewelry.
(The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant)
Function of Situational Irony
The function of situational irony is to lay emphasis on important scenes and make strange and unusual images vivid. It creates an unexpected turn at the end of a story and makes audience laugh or cry. Therefore, situational irony could be tragic or funny. Usually writers employ strong word connections with situational irony and add fresh thoughts, variations and embellishments to their works. It may range from the most comic to the most tragic situations. Its comical use usually creates unexpected turnaround in a plot for the betterment. Sometimes, these forms of ironies occur, because people identify certain events and situations as unfair or odd.