Definition of Verbal Irony
Verbal irony occurs when a speaker speaks something contradictory to what he intends to. It is an intentional product of the speaker and is contradictory to his/her emotions and actions. To define it simply, it means when a character uses statement with underlying meanings contrasting with its literal meanings, it shows that the writer has used verbal irony. Writers rely on audience’s intelligence for discerning hidden meanings they intend to convey. Writers also use ironic similes to convey exactly the opposite of what they intend to say, such as “soft like concrete.”
Types of Verbal Irony
Examples of Verbal irony from Literature
“I will not marry yet; and, when I do, I swear it shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate, rather than Paris.”
(Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare)
Juliet does not like the decision of her father to marry with Paris, whom she dislikes and instead adores Romeo. Hence, she makes a decision to marry Romeo and tells her mother about it ironically that whenever she would marry, it would be Romeo whom she dislikes and not Paris, and thus makes her mother confused.
“She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me”.
(Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen)
We can find many finest examples of this form of irony in Pride and Prejudice. In this example, we relish ironic flavor of Darcy’s statement that we later figure out that the woman whom he finds unsuitable to dance with, in reality, finds her place in his heart.
The title of the poem, “The Unknown Citizen” employs verbal irony, as poet describes a person as the one whom everyone knows, but he is still unknown. Also by deliberately capitalizing the common words, speaker makes them sound meaningless, ironic and sarcastic: “the Greater Community”, “Social Psychology”, “Union”, “Public Opinion” and “High Grade Living” etc. These all words sound formal, pompous, bureaucratic and arrogant. Simply, through verbal irony, the poet shows how governmental agencies, which should serve human beings, have rather enslaved them.
(The Unknown Citizen by D.H Lawrence)
All types of ironies are prevalent throughout the entire play, “Oedipus Rex.” One fine example of verbal irony occurs when Tiresias refuses to reveal the prophecy to Oedipus. Thus, Oedipus is ignorant and presses Tiresias into saying, “You are all ignorant. I will not reveal the troubling things inside me, which I can call your grief as well.” Oedipus responds, “Do you intend to betray me and destroy the city?” I fact, Oedipus misunderstands Tiresias’ statement “which I can call your grief as well.“ By this, Tiresias means that if he reveals the truth, it would become Oedipus’ grief that he is murderer of his King Laius. This is a verbal irony which Oedipus fails to realize that this “grief” is going to be an impending fate for him that Tiresias hesitates to tells him about.
(Oedipus Rex by Sophocles)
“I rather recommend buying the children alive and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs.”
(A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift)
Verbal irony is a dominant literary device in this novel. For instance, in the following statement author intends to point out that government should not treat Irish like animals, in fact he compares them to animals.
“Today was a very cold and bitter day, as cold and bitter as a cup of hot chocolate; if the cup of hot chocolate had vinegar added to it and were placed in a refrigerator for several hours.”
(Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket)
Snicket uses verbal irony by employing ironic simile. Then, he proceeds and breaks down this simile, by overturning its meaning. By making a complex structure, author creates verbal irony to let readers enjoy.
Functions of Verbal Irony
Verbal irony is very common in everyday speech, plays, novels, poetry and occurs usually in the form of sarcasm. It depends upon timing and suitable circumstances to achieve its effect. Verbal irony develops funny and dramatic situations. Through verbal irony, writers and poets can convey their bitter messages indirectly in a less bitter and more effective way. It makes a literary piece more effective by provoking readers into analyzing and thinking harder about a situation. By contrasting and comparing suppositions with reality, the readers can better understand the writer’s intent.