What is an example of situational irony in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?

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Situational irony occurs when a situation is the opposite of what characters in a work of literature think it is.

One example of situational irony in Fahrenheit 451 is that of Clarisse McClellan and her family. They are people who spend time outside in nature, don't watch the giant television...

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Situational irony occurs when a situation is the opposite of what characters in a work of literature think it is.

One example of situational irony in Fahrenheit 451 is that of Clarisse McClellan and her family. They are people who spend time outside in nature, don't watch the giant television view screens, take walks, and enjoy having conversations with each other. They are not overly reliant on technology and like to ask questions. When Clarisse interacts with Montag in a genuine way and shows an interest in him, it actually awakens in him a dissatisfaction with the shallowness of his life. To Bradbury's mind the McClellans represent people who are much more well adjusted than most of the people in their society.

However, as Beatty explains, within the context of their culture, the McClellans are considered deviant and maladjusted. Beatty says of them:

We had some false alarms on the McClellans, when they lived in Chicago. Never found a book. Uncle had a mixed record; anti-social. The girl? She was a time bomb. The family had been feeding her subconscious, I'm sure, from what I saw of her school record. She didn't want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. The poor girl's better off dead.

It is an example of situational irony that Beatty, a mouthpiece for orthodox thought in his culture, thinks the McClellans are a problem when they represent exactly the kind of thoughtful energy and inquiry the society needs. It is ironic that Beatty thinks Clarisse is better off dead when she was the most alive person Montag had met in years.

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There is an example of situational irony on the very first page of Fahrenheit 451, when the reader meets the main character, Montag. In this opening paragraph, Montag's duties as a fireman and his enjoyment of the job are described to the reader:

With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black.

This situation is ironic because we would expect a fireman to put out fires, not to start them. In the world of Fahrenheit 451, however, firemen are the defenders of censorship and the burners of books. Though ironic to the reader, it is this description which foreshadows the conflict that Montag will experience as he comes to realise that this is a repressive system which does not make him truly happy. 

To escape this repression, however, there will be a second example of situational irony: Montag will have to burn his boss, Captain Beatty, as he fights against the book-burning which exists in his world.

For more examples of irony, please see the reference link provided. 

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Situational irony refers specifically to events where the setup causes an outcome opposite to expectations; it hinges on reversal of expectation rather. In the book, a good example of situational irony is the use of the term "firemen." In present-day society, firemen are public service workers who respond to sudden fires, either environmental or residential, and work with water and chemicals to put the fires out and save lives. However, in the book, it is made clear from the beginning that the firemen are "men of fire," charged with burning books and allowed to kill people who break the law without consequence.

"Established, 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin."

RULE 1. Answer the alarm swiftly.
2. Start the fire swiftly.
3. Burn everything.
4. Report back to firehouse immediately.
5. Stand alert for other alarms.
(Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Google Books)

This is, of course, ridiculous; there is no reason why fires would be considered a good course of action, especially in regards to books. Also, Ben Franklin was the first firefighter, not an arsonist. However, since the future society is based on collective ignorance, it is imperative that the people be both afraid to read, and distrustful of anyone who thinks differently; the violence of the fire and the public consequences of burning are enough to continue this mindset. In this way, the term "firemen" is reversed and made ironic because it refers to the direct opposite of its initial meaning.

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Let us remind ourselves of the definition of situational irony. Situational irony is when there is a sudden, unexpected reversal of what we expect to happen in a story. The classic example of this is "The Gift of the Magi," when there is a sudden, shocking ending as Jim and Della that they have both traded the possessions that were dearest to them to purchase gifts that now cannot be used by the other.

If we think about this concept in terms of this novel, I would argue that the ending of the story is an example of situational irony. Having finally escaped the mechanical hound and found a group of Book People who he can join, Montag is looking forward to a life of hidden opposition and remembering texts. Instead, both he and the reader are shocked by the sudden destruction of the city from which he has just fled:

The bombardment was to all intents and purposes finished once the jets had sighted their target, alerted their bombardier at five thousand miles an hour; as quick as the whisper of a scythe the war was finished. Once the bomb release was yanked, it was over.

The shock with which this rapid and sudden destruction of the city occurs is as much of a surprise for Montag as it is for us. Now the group will not have to operate in secret, and can be part of the phoenix rising from the ashes that Granger remembers. It is a sudden twist in the plot that takes us by surprise.

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