Quite simply, if the reader does not understand the irony of an author in a text, he/she will miss the entire point [the theme] of the author. There are three main types of irony:
- Verbal irony -this irony occurs when someone says one thing but really means something else. Stephen Crane's poem "War is Kind" would seem rather inane if the reader could not understand Crane's real statement that war is not about courage, but rather about a pointless sacrifice of youth.
- Situational irony - this irony takes place when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen, or what would be appropriate to happen, and what really does happen. A famous use of situational irony is in Stephen Crane's "A Mystery of Heroism" in which a soldier risks his life to fetch water which is then spilled.
- Dramatic irony - this irony is often used on stage where a character in the play or story thinks one thing is true, but the audience or reader knows better. A classic example exists in Oedipus Rex, of course, as the king searches for the cause of the ills of Thebes when he himself is the very cause.
The use of irony creates a much more significant effect in a work of literature; a point is made cleverly that strikes the reader profoundly and lastingly. Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" would be a very dull story, indeed, without the element of irony.
The most important advantage of knowing irony in literary texts is that when you notice the particular points in the story, it helps to shed light on the themes and purposes of the story itself. They are piecesof the puzzle that help to explain what the author is trying to say. It is not to say, of course, that missing ironic elements will help you to not understand the story, a reader can appreciate the full impact of the story if they have a good command of literary analysis. The ironic elements in "the Lottery" make it so much more dramatic and powerful, that it is ever more shocking by the time you get to the end. More than a few people have stated, when they arrive at the end, "Wow! What a story!"
The story "The Lottery" would be difficult for someone to be able to interrupt the dynamics involved if they have no understanding of irony in literature. The reader might only understand the facts but not really discovers the writers full indent in the story.
In the case of the story the writer was also using the story as a metaphor for the incidents that had occurred during World War II and the Nazi's ability to execute genocide. Jackson employed the use of irony to demonstrate how people can remain silent and allow murder to occur without batting an eye until it comes for them. While not everyone who reads the story may recognize that this was the writer's original intent without reading the background of the writer and the story, the recognition of the use of irony helps the reader to understand several underwritten messages: The lottery is not a good thing, the individuals a are complacent about the lottery until he or she is the one chosen to die, and the individuals return to complacency and tradition after the stoning ends.