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Could anyone help me by explaining what “Structural Irony” means in a literary...

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kajsa | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 22, 2013 at 8:03 PM via web

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Could anyone help me by explaining what “Structural Irony” means in a literary sense. I’m writing a term paper where this is one of the main concepts, and  I have not been able to find a full explanation of it. Best, Karin.

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 22, 2013 at 8:46 PM (Answer #1)

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The technical definition of "structural irony"  (according to Hamilton's Essential Literary Terms) is "an implication of alternate or reversed meaning that pervades a work. A major technique for sustaining structural irony is the use of a naïve protagonist or unreliable narrator who continually interprets events and intentions in ways that the author signals are mistaken” (45).

One can understand why this term is confusing. Sometimes it is best to illustrate an idea in order to define it.

First, to summarize what Hamilton's definition states, structural irony is the use of a word or idea which possesses a double meaning. This double meaning is played upon in much of the text. It illustrates the naivety of the narrator in regards to his or her warped ideas about the world around him or her. The reader, on the other hand, understands the narrator to be unreliable.

An example of this is found in John Steinbeck's The Catcher in the Rye. Holden has a very twisted view of the world and "phonies." While Holden recognizes everyone as a phony, readers know that he is actually one.


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