Select an ironic literary work and explain the multivocal nature of the irony in the work.

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amymc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would choose As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.  In this novel, a family travels by wagon in turn of the century Mississippi to bury their mother in her home town.  The story is revealed through a series of interior monologues presented by Addie's husband, her four sons, her daughter, and her neighbors.  

As we delve into the minds of each of Addie's family members, we notice that burying Addie as per her dying wish is not the focus of this journey.  Each family member has an ulterior motive for traveling to Jefferson.  Anse, her husband, wants a new set of teeth; Dewey Dell wants an abortion; Vardaman wants a toy train; Cash wants a music box. As the ending nears, the readers still expect a burial scene, even though by now we know how dysfunctional this family is.  The ironic twist is palpable; there is no burial scene.  Anse simple emerges with a new Mrs. Bundren.

Each character leads us to expect two things:  the fulfillment of their ulterior motive and their emotions at the actual burial of their mother.   Neither of these happen for any character except Anse, who emerges by the end as the most despised of the Bundren lot.  Anse does get his teeth.  However, the dysfunctional saga will continue without epiphany or resolution, only with a new Mrs. Bundren.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When I think of ironic literary texts, one of the first that comes to mind is Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal."  In this text, the speaker proposes that poor Irish tenant farmers sell their one-year-old babies as a food source for wealthy, English landowners.  This would provide the Irish with an additional source of income while lowering the number of beggars on the streets. It would also decrease the Catholic population (a bonus for the largely-Protestant English).  

Swift, of course, does not actually want anyone to eat babies; he uses irony to point out that the English are all but "devouring" the Irish anyway, so why not actually do it?  Through the ironic suggestion that the English should eat Irish babies, Swift points a finger at the wealthy English who exploit the Irish and make it impossible for them to survive, let alone thrive, in their own country.  On the other hand, he also points out the way in which the Irish have been complicit in this exploitation—they allowed the English to take over their lands and laws without much protest, and now they can barely survive as a result of the way the English power has grown.  Swift's irony accomplishes both of these meanings, making it multivocal.