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Can anyone help me with finding an example of situational irony in Literature?I've...

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swimsingsurf12 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 22, 2011 at 7:46 AM via web

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Can anyone help me with finding an example of situational irony in Literature?

I've found examples online but the site does not give me a direct quote which  is what I need rather than just a description of what happens. Any piece of literature will do, just as long as you give me the direct quote from the piece--NOT a description of what happens. I need it for my summer assignment for AP Literature & Composition so if u could help me out I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks in advance! (:

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 22, 2011 at 8:38 AM (Answer #2)

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When an outcome turns out differently from what is expected, there is situational irony.  Two authors who are renowned for their situational irony are O. Henry and Saki.  In O. Henry's and in Saki's stories, the reader almost always encounters a surprise ending that results from situational irony.

Two examples from O. Henry's writings are the short story, "After Twenty Years" in which a man waits in a doorway for an old friend, a spot where they have agreed to meet twenty years from their parting.  Ironically, a policeman talks with one of the men as he awaits his friend in a doorway.  After the policeman leaves, another man comes, but he is not the friend, although he pretends to be at first.  What has happened is that the policeman is actually the old friend; however, when the man has lit his cigar in the doorway, the policman has recognized a criminal wanted by the law.  But, he does not have the heart to arrest his old friend, so he sends a plain clothes policeman with an explanatory note to arrest the man.

In another story, "The Last Leaf," two young aspiring artists move into Greenwich Village.  There they encounter a brutally cold winter; unfortunately, one of the girls, Johnsy, is from California, so she contracts pneumonia.  Sue, the other girl, tries everything to get Johnsy to fight for life, but Johnsy begins to weaken and lose heart.  She tells Sue that she has been watching the ivy leaves outside her window, and as the leaves fall, she feels herself going, too.  So, in deference to her friend, she will hold on as long as the ivy leaves do; when the last leaf falls, she will also let go of life.  Despairing of all hope, Sue goes to the little old curmugeon who lives downstairs and tells him the plight of Johnsy as he likes the young lady.  Bergman is upset and comes upstairs to look; he and Sue stare knowingly at each other.  However, the next day when Johnsy insists that Sue pull up the shade on her window, saying that she will die if the leaf is gone, Sue shakily raises the shade knowing that the leaf must have fallen in the raging wind of the previous night.  Somehow, though, the yellowing leaf is yet there on the window. So, Johnsy promises to try to live, ordering soup for herself.  Later, that that day Sue learns the ironical reason for the leaf's persistence in remaining on the window:  Bergman has painted it there in the night, and he has died because he was soakd by the icy rain!

A famous story of Saki's that has situational irony is "The Interlopers." In this story two men have harbored hatred for each other in a bitter feud over land. When they find themselves face to face in the woods, they hesitate for a moment before trying to kill each other.  In this split second, lightning strikes a huge tree, and branches fall, pinning them under the branches.  As they lie there helplessly, the two men reconcile their bitter differences, and they promise that whosever men come first, they will help the other.  Now that there is nothing to fear, they listen for men.  Then, they hear noises, and the one man asks the other who it is.  "Wolves," the other replies. 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 22, 2011 at 8:46 AM (Answer #3)

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ahsanhabib | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 24, 2011 at 1:13 PM (Answer #4)

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In "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelly situational irony is evident in the words appeared on the pedestal of the dilapidated statue:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

These words suggest that the king was profusely powerful. The pedestal message also shows the king's past glory and achievemnet. but in striking contrast, now there is nothing else around the statue other than a barren and desolate desert. That is why the words written on the pedestal becomes ironic.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 26, 2011 at 11:58 PM (Answer #5)

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I noticed that neither of the above posts actually define situational irony.  ???Irony comes in different types.  Situational irony is when something happens that is different from what you expect to happen.  I can think of many examples, but for some reason "The Tell-tale Heart" pops into my head.  The narrator spends all of his time talking about how clever he is for killing his roommate and sticking him under the floorboards, and then he confesses to the crime!

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted August 13, 2011 at 12:26 PM (Answer #6)

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Absolutely!  First let's look at what situational irony is. Enotes talks about situational irony in detail:

In ironic situations (situational irony), actions often have an effect exactly opposite from what is intended.

In fact, situational irony doesn't have to have the exact opposite effect, but at least an "odd" effect, ... something the reader does not expect to happen.

It is so very common to discuss situational irony within the context of the novel or the short story that I thought it would be fun to take a look at a poem absolutely bleeding with situational irony:  "Richard Cory."  For example, take a look at the part of the poem that leads us astray:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good Morning!" and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine -- we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

At this point in the poem, most of us are wishing we could BE Richard Cory, ... nothing seems to be amiss.  But, ah, money isn't everything, friends:

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

Even at the beginning of this stanza, things are still "okay."  So Richard Cory seems overworked, ... so what.  But by the last line, NONE of us would wish to be poor Mr. Cory.  Situational irony at its best!

Noelle Thompson

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