Irony is a literary device which reveals concealed or contradictory meanings.
There are three forms:
- SITUATIONAL IRONY: This occurs when a set of circumstances turn out differently from what was expected or considered appropriate.
- The Response
The tree's branches
knocked against our window.
It wanted to be friends
and come in.
My answer was to open my window
reach out and hack off
its two longest arms.
One often-quoted example of an ironic situation is found in Joseph Heller's Catch 22. In chapter five of the classic novel, Yossarian and Doc Deneeka discuss the possibility of being grounded from flying appallingly dangerous combat missions due to insanity. The catch is, one could only be grounded if one were mad, and one had to ask to be grounded, and anyone who asked to be grounded clearly wasn't mad any more.
Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. "Is Orr crazy?"
"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said.
"Can you ground him?"
"I sure can. But he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule."
"They why doesn't he ask you to?"
"Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to."
"That's all he has to do to be grounded?"
"That's all. Let him ask me."
"And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked.
"No. Then I can't ground him."
"You mean there's a catch?"
"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
- VERBAL IRONY: This occurs when a contrast is evident between what a character says and what that character actually means. Usually the opposite is stated for emphasis. See also sarcasm, which is not quite the same. Sarcasm is intended to hurt.
Eminem's dark and depressing look at an extremely dysfuncional relationship in "Love the Way You Lie" employs several examples of verbal irony.
- DRAMATIC IRONY: This irony occurs when the author shares with the reader information not known by a character. As a result, the reader becomes aware that a character's actions may be inappropriate for the actual circumstances, that what is to come is the reverse of what a character expects, or that a character has unknowingly made a comment which anticipates the outcome.
Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something the characters within the drama do not. In the featured scene, Harvey Dent shares his opinion on Batman with Bruce Wayne. The audience knows that Bruce Wayne is acually Batman, but Harvey Dent does not.