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«The Use of Irony in Stories»

In stories or life scenarios depicted in movies and performances, irony can be approached from different angles. It ranges from how characters illustrate it to the audience, what they say about a given scenario of the plot to the setting of a specific storyline. Four stories, namely “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” by Lane Smith, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbitt, and “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopins are examples of a masterly use of irony in literature.  

Description of Irony in Literature and Reasons for Selecting It

An irony is a literary device, which gives the used words a different meaning, resolves a situation in a different way than anticipated by the readers. In other words, it is a difference between impression and reality. There are several types of irony, such as situational, verbal and dramatic. Situational irony occurs when a story/situation produces the opposing result to what is anticipated. For example, in the story “The Ransom of Red Chief”, a son was abducted, but his parents wanted to be paid to take him back instead of paying the kidnappers. Verbal irony comprises a disparity between articulated meaning of words and intended meaning. An example can be drawn from the Prometheus and Zeus story where Prometheus by saying, “You are as kind as you are wise”, means that Zeus is neither wise nor kind.

The theme is important in literature as it educates the public on what is wrong and what needs to be improved. Irony can be used to criticize actions taken by authority/government without raising any unnecessary conflicts. For example, as in Zeus’s approach of verbal irony, a leader encouraged to change his or her manner of performance in their office. An irony in literature triggers students to think and participate in classwork and provides them with life lessons, which they can use to solve future challenges. Further, the theme creates a balance between what is expected and what happens in a given plot of a story. This is the main goal of situational and dramatic irony ("Short Stories for Teaching Irony with Lesson Ideas”).

How the Authors Applied the Theme of Irony in Their Works

The different authors in their respective stories have used the theme of irony. In the first story, Lane Smith uses situational irony to depict events that occur in real life. Here, she describes a needy person who ends up getting frustrated with a system and commits a crime. The story gives a reason why good people commit illegal activities like the wolf. If the pigs were good neighbors, they would have given him sugar as expected (Scieszka and Smith). In the second story, Maurice Sendak irony is used in the whole story. At first, the protagonist is denied food because of his behavior, but when he returns home, he finds a good meal prepared for him. In addition, he is denied the chance of becoming a wolf but in the dream, he ends up being crowned as their king. In the third story, Natalie Babbitt uses irony to explain some challenges that people face in their respective areas. In the story, Winnie is interested in leaving her countryside but ends up staying there after what happened to Tuck’s family. In addition, magic water was a secret, which they shared with a new member. The yellow man in a suit believed that the water would benefit him, but on the opposite, he died. Further, Winnie turns down the offer to have a long life by pouring out the water instead of drinking it and waiting for Jesse. In the last story, Kate Chopins uses irony to show a conflict of feelings that people experience. In the story, the audience expects the woman to be sad about her husband’s death, but she feels excited and happy for being free from him. Ironically, the story ends with a woman dying from heart attack induced by happiness.

Summary of the Four Stories

“The True Story of the Three Little Pig” talks about three little pigs from the perspective of Alexander T. Wolf. In the story, the wolf tries to explain why he is termed 'big and bad.' At the beginning of the book, the wolf prepares a cake to surprise the grandmother for her birthday. However, he runs out of sugar and decides to borrow some from his pig neighbors. All pigs deny him sugar, and he ends up sneezing. As a result, he accidentally blows down the houses, which belong to the first two neighbors. In the event, they die, and he eats them. The third pig's home is not blown away as it is made out of bricks and survives the fate of the other two. Mr. Wolf gets arrested, and the third pig survives. His arrest causes the grandmother to miss the planned birthday cake (Scieszka and Smith).

“Where the Wild Things Are” tells the story of a young bot Max. According to the plot, he dresses as a wolf and causes chaos in the house because of what he is sent to bed without supper. While in bed, the bedroom transforms into a jungle. In the new environment, he sails to an island populous by vicious beasts called the "Wild Things" (Sendak 5-28). After successfully daunting the monsters, he ends up being crowned as the king of the creatures. He later enjoys a playful game with the beasts, but he chooses to go back home, causing the creatures to distress. After coming back to his room, he realizes that there is food awaiting him (Sendak 30-35).

The third story “Tuck Everlasting” describes a 12-year-old girl, Winnie Foster. In the story, she is irritated by her family and is thinking of running away from her country hometown of Treegap, until in one of the wooded areas her family owns she meets a seventeen-year-old boy, Jesse Tuck, drinking water from the spring. The Tucks inform her that the water spring in the woods is magical. It has magical powers that give eternal life to people who drink its water. Winnie gets affectionate towards Jesse and his father, Angus (Babbitt 13-45). They end up teaching her about the life cycle surrounding the magical water. The man in the yellow suit in the story pursues the Tucks and gets to know that Winnie supports the family of two. He sells out the Winnie’s whereabouts to the public and opts to make the spring a business venture. This angers the Tuck’s family and they refuse to get involved in the business. The man in the yellow suit tries to blackmail them by grabbing Winnie as a hostage to show the people. Mae gets frustrated and uses her husband’s shotgun to shoot the man (Babbitt 110-120). Later, he succumbs to the injuries, and Mae gets sentenced to death by hanging. The events cause anxiety to the family and Winnie as their secret is about to be discovered. They plan to go and rescue Mae and place Winnie in her position. As they do so, Jesse gives her a bottle of magic water to drink when she turns seventeen. However, she does not drink the water, ends up getting married and dies at an old age. Several years later, Mae and the family come back to find that the city had changed, and the wooded area and spring were replaced with a suburban metropolis. When they visit the cemetery, they come across an old frog that drank the water poured by Winnie (Babbitt 165-170).

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The fourth story, “The Story of an Hour”, outlines some of the emotions endured by Louise Mallard when she finds out that her husband, Brently, is dead. It was alleged that his death occurred during a railroad accident. Due to her heart condition, the sister tries to tell her the terrible news in a gentle way. Mrs. Mallard ends up barring herself in her room to bemoan the loss of her husband. However, she begins to experience an unforeseen sense of excitement. "Free! Body and soul free!” She exalts and considers the death of her husband as an advantage, until she discovers he is at the door alive. The shock of seeing him causes heart attack, and she dies (Chopin).

How the Theme Plays Out in the Stories

Irony plays a critical role in all four stories. The authors tried to elaborate on the conflicting roles of the characters imposed by other people. Irony replaced the anticipated outcomes with unexpected twists. In most cases, contradicting actions were justified at the end of each story.


In conclusion, the authors in the different stories have used different types of irony. The theme has been adopted to justify some of the actions taken by the characters in different settings. The four stories alter the meaning of some of the actions expected from people. Someone may be mean or evil but at the end of the story he or she may end up being the hero or the villain. To understand such stories, the readers are mandated to read the whole story to the end for them to make a conclusive remark about the characters. Further, irony in literature keeps the audience interested in what will happen in a given set as they are eager to see what comes at the end of the story.



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