Irony – Literary Definition, Functions, Examples & Usages

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Irony – Literally Definition, Functions & Usages



Irony is a figure of speech in which words are utilized in a way that their projected meaning varies from the real meaning of the words.

It may as well be a situation that may end up in fairly a dissimilar way than what is commonly anticipated.

Put in a more simple way, it is a difference between the appearance and the reality.

Types of Irony

Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is a trope in which the intended meaning of a statement varies from the meaning that the words appear to put across.

Situational Irony

Situational irony is when something happens contrary to expectation of people.

Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is an effect created by a narrative in which the audience knows more about present or future circumstances than a character in the story.

Variation of between Dramatic Irony and Situational Irony

Dramatic irony is a kind of irony in a situation, which the writers regularly use in their works.

While in situational irony, both the characters and the audience are totally unaware of the implications of the real situation.

In dramatic irony, the characters are ignorant of the situation but the audience is not.

For instance, in “Romeo and Juliet”, we know much before the characters that they are going to die.

In actual life situations, irony may be comical, bitter or oftentimes excruciatingly offensive.

Examples commonly used Irony
  1. The name of Britain’s biggest dog was “Tiny”.
  2. You laugh at a person who slipped stepping on a banana peel and the next thing you know, you slipped too.
  3. The butter is as soft as a marble piece.
  4. “Oh great! Now you have broken my new camera.”
Examples of Irony found in Literature

We come across the following lines in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, Act I, Scene V.

  1. “Go ask his name: if he be married.
  2. My grave is like to be my wedding bed.”
  3. Juliet commands her nurse to find out who Romeo was and says if he were married, then her wedding bed would be her grave.

It is a verbal irony because the audience knows that she is going to die on her wedding bed.

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Shakespeare also employs this verbal irony in “Julius Caesar” Act I, Scene II,

CASSIUS: “tis true this god did shake”

Cassius, irrespective of the fact that he knows the mortal errors of Caesar, calls him “this god”.

In the Greek drama “Oedipus Rex” written by “Sophocles”, 👇👇

“Upon the murderer I invoke this curse – whether he is one man and all unknown,

Or one of many – may he wear out his life in misery to miserable doom!”

The above line portrays a picture of verbal and dramatic irony.

It was predicted that a man culpable for killing his father and marrying his own mother has brought curse on the city and its people.

In the above-mentioned lines, Oedipus curses the man who is the cause of curse on his city.

He is unaware that he in fact is that man and he is cursing himself. The audience, on the contrary, knows the situation.

Irony examples are not only present in stage plays but in poems as well.

In his poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Coleridge wrote:

“Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.”

In the above stated lines, the ship, blown by the south wind, is left high and dry in the unexplored sea.

Ironically, there is water everywhere but they do not have a single drop of water to drink.

Functions and Characteristics of Irony

Irony may be utilized as a rhetorical device to put into effect one’s meaning. It may be utilized… as a satiric device to attack a point of view or to expose foolishness, double standards, or narcissism.

It may be used as an heuristic device to make one’s readers to understand that things are not so simple or assured as they appear, or perhaps not so composite or doubtful as they look like.

It is likely that most irony is rhetorical, satirical, or heuristic.

“In the first place irony is a double-standard or two-story phenomenon. In the second place there is constantly a few form of opposition that may take the form of contradiction, incongruity, or incompatibility. In the third instance, there is in irony an element of ‘innocence.'”

On the grounds of the above definition, we differentiate two fundamental kinds of irony i.e. verbal irony and situational irony.

A verbal irony involves what one does not mean. When in response to a foolish idea, we say, “what a great idea!” Such word is an example of it is a verbal irony.

A situational irony takes place when, for example, a man is laugh quietly at the misfortune of the other even when the same misfortune, in total ignorance, is befalling him.

Uses of Irony

Just like every other figure of speech, Irony carries and instills extra meanings to an event.

Ironical statements and situations in literature build up readers’ interest.

Irony makes a work of literature more fascinating and forces the readers to make use of their imagination and figure out the fundamental meanings of the texts.

What is more, real life is full of ironical expressions and situations. For that reason, the use of irony brings a work of literature closer to the life.

Disney movies are full of irony. Below are a few of them:

  • Snow White’s Apple – Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

The apple that puts Snow White into a deep sleep is dramatic irony, due to the fact that the audience knows that the Wicked Stepmother cursed the apple, but Snow White does not know.

Remy – Ratatouille

The very thought of having a Rat in a kitchen is disgusting to a number of people, therefore Disney is making an ironic movie about a rat that immediately happens to be a master chef makes it one of the most ironic movies of all.

Mufasa’s Death – The Lion King

All through the whole movie, Simba loiters around the Savannah and thinks that he is the direct cause of Mufasa’s death, when in reality Scar, who is currently looking after him, is the one who killed Mufasa.

Monster’s Inc.

The whole plot of the movie is very ironic. Monster’s Inc. is a company run by monsters, their job being to frighten children, when in actual fact they are the ones that are all the time afraid of the children.

Hercules and the Magic Potion – Hercules

Another instance of dramatic irony is where Hercules does not drink every last drop of the magic potion, whereas the audience and his sidekicks are aware. Hades then took him too lightly, and Hercules is able to win.

Numerous Fish – Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo best illustrates its irony in its characters. There’s the very unfunny clownfish, the carnivorous shark support group, and one of the funniest, the pelican being friends with the fish.

Aladdin’s Wish to Be Rich – Aladdin

Aladdin had three wishes from the Genie, and one of them was to be a Prince: which meant have the riches of the land.

He wanted to be rich so that he could marry the Princess, Jasmine.

However, Jasmine was actually repulsed by his riches and did NOT want to marry him.

Mr. Incredible – The Incredibles

There are quite a few in this movie: Mr. Incredible (a superhero) gets sued for saving a person attempting suicide. He also goes through a midlife crisis in the movie, but Superheroes don’t have ages.

Belle and Gaston – Beauty and the Beast

I just don’t deserve you!

In the movie, Gaston wants to marry Belle, but she says that she doesn’t deserve him. In reality, the audience knows that he is the one that does not deserve her.

Sally and McQueen – Cars


I mean if you want to stay at the dirty impound.

That’s – that’s fine.

You know, I understand you criminal types.


No, no, no, no. That’s OK. Yeah, The Cozy Cone.


It’s newly refurbished.


Ha-ha. Yeah, it’s like a clever little twist.

The motel’s made out of caution cones, when of course,

Cars usually try to avoid, now we’re gonna stay in them.

Ha-ha. That’s funny.

The above part about Sally and McQueen is one of the most brilliant moments in Disney irony: Sally and McQueen are in love with each other, yet they very rude to each other.

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About the Author: RaMaDan

“The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

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