What is the irony of "The Invalid's Story"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Dramatic Irony is a form of irony which emerges when the audience knows information which the characters are not privy to. Mark Twain 's "The Invalid's Tale" makes effective use of dramatic irony. This is enabled by its approach to first-person narration, by which the narrator is recollecting an experience...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Dramatic Irony is a form of irony which emerges when the audience knows information which the characters are not privy to. Mark Twain's "The Invalid's Tale" makes effective use of dramatic irony. This is enabled by its approach to first-person narration, by which the narrator is recollecting an experience that happened to him two years earlier.

The narrator establishes early within the story that there was a mix-up in which the box containing his friend's corpse was switched with another box containing guns. Within the timeframe of the story, the protagonist was not yet aware of this, but the narrator (working from the benefit of hindsight) is fully knowledgeable of the facts, and through him, so is the audience.

The Limburger Cheese will be introduced in a similar fashion. Again, the narrator, with the benefit of hindsight, reveals to the audience details which he had not yet been aware of during the events of the story itself. Thus, there emerges the story's ironic tension, wherein the characters are fully convinced that this terrible smell must be coming from the corpse, even as the audience is fully aware that the problem lies with the cheese instead.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator of Twain's tale believes that the box he is transporting contains the body of an old friend that he is excorting home.  What he does not know is the the box containing the body was accidentally switched with a box of guns being shipped.  Also, a hobo had jumped into the boxcar and set a bag that contained Limburger cheese on top of the box and then left.  The cheese smells horrible, and both the narrator and the conductor attribute the smell to the body they believe is in the box.  They go through all kinds of outlandish ways to cover up the smell, including burning trash, but the heat from the fire only melted the cheese, making the train car stink even worse.  The narrator ends up getting very ill from sitting outside on the back of the train car in the cold to avoid the smell when all they had to do was investigate and throw out the bag containing the rotten cheese. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team