Situational irony is related to the broader definition of irony— when something appears to be one thing on the surface and is the exact opposite in reality. It is a common literary device and rhetorical device that can be found in all genres of writing. It is also quite commonly used in everyday conversations with friends, family members, and colleagues.
Explore Situational Irony
Definition of Situational Irony
Situational irony is a common literary device that occurs when a writer crafts a plot point/event that is the opposite of what the reader expected. It creates some kind of contrast that’s interesting and engaging. Some examples include a math teacher who doesn’t know how to do math, a musician who is tone-deaf, and someone writing a novel to complain about how they don’t like novels.
Examples of Situational Irony in Literature
The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin
This groundbreaking short story is one of Chopin’s greatest works. In it, she describes Louise Mallard, a wife whose husband dies in a train accident. Her brief period of mourning quickly turns into immense relief when she realizes she’s free from her husband’s demands. She knows she’s able to control her own destiny now. This is a good example of situational irony as everyone in her family thought that this news would send her into a deep depression. Here are a few lines from the story:
There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.
Then, in another twist, almost immediately afterward, it becomes clear that her husband didn’t actually ride the train that day and he walks into the house unscathed. The story ends with Louise dying from heart problems—the only kind of freedom left to her.
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
In this classic story, Oedipus Rex is plagued by a prophecy that informed him that one day he’d marry his mother and kill his father. In his attempt to run from the prophecy, he ends up fulfilling it. Towards the end of the story, when it becomes clear that he has married his mother and he can finally see the truth, he gouges out his eyes. Here are a few lines:
For he removed from her garment the golden brooches which she was wearing; he lifted them and struck the sockets of his own eyes, shouting that they would not see either the evils he had suffered or the evils he had done, now only in darkness could they see those whom they must not see, in darkness could they mistake those whom they wanted to recognize
Both the fact that Oedipus walked right into the prophecy while trying to escape it and then gouged out his eyes when he finally saw the truth are examples of situational irony.
Situational Irony or Dramatic Irony
Dramatic irony is a type of irony that occurs when the reader knows the details of a story and one of the characters doesn’t. The reader is in on a secret or something that’s about to happen. This can create very interesting dramatic moments in which the reader wants to, but is unable to, tell the characters the truth of a situation. In comparison, situational irony refers to moments in which something unexpected happens. The most commonly cited general example is a fire station burning down.
Situational Irony or Verbal Irony
Verbal irony refers to situations in which what the character says is different from what they mean. This is a very common form of irony and can be found in normal, everyday situations. With this kind of irony, the speaker is very aware that they’re using it. This sets verbal irony apart from situational and dramatic.
Why Do Writers Use Situational Irony?
This literary device is helpful when the writer wants to convey an ironic situation in a piece of writing and help the reader see beneath the surface. With situational irony, readers can get a more in-depth look at the ins and outs of a character’s world. It’s sometimes used in dramatic and tragic works of literature while it can also be applied to create comedy and humor.
Situational irony occurs when something takes place that is the opposite of what the reader or characters expected.
Some examples include getting lost while using GPS, a rainstorm after you’ve watered your garden, looking for your glasses while they’re on your face, and a police officer who breaks the law.
Three types are dramatic, situational, verbal.
It creates suspense when something happens that readers didn’t expect and that goes against the norm. Readers will be put off guard and remain unsure about what’s going to happen next.
Related Literary Terms
- Sarcasm: a type of verbal irony that expresses contempt, mocks, or ridicules.
- Satire and Satirical Comedy: are used to analyze behaviors to make fun of, criticize, or chastise them in a humorous way.
- Discourse: written or spoken words. It is communication that describes thought through language in everyday life and literature.
- Figurative Language: refers to figures of speech that are used in order to improve a piece of writing.
- Overstatement: a type of figurative language. They are descriptions of events, people, situations, and objects that are over-exaggerated.
- Prose: a written and spoken language form that does not make use of a metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.
- Read: The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin
- Listen: Situational Irony- The Opposite of What You Think
- Watch: What is Situational Irony?