The interesting thing about irony for me is that real irony is far more sincere than earnestness. To accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it. Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance. That is not to say that one should ever make light of serious and grave and important issues, but that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation. Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic. –Percival Everett
Irony. It’s all around us, in plays, movies, school, and relationships.
Irony is especially important in the literary world. This is evident from the Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms’ four-page-long definition and examples of the word. The general definition of irony from the Bedford is “a contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality.” (Ross Murfin and Surpryia M. Ray, 217). What I get out of this definition is that irony is unexpected for the person experiencing it, and that it is often something that occurs in the opposite way than the person’s original intent. When I think of irony, I think of a humorous blunder of one’s words backfiring against oneself. However, as listed in the Bedford, there are many different types of irony that can have various effects.
One example is dramatic irony. This specific type of irony is often involved in theatrical experiences where the reader or audience is aware of an important plot point while a character or actor on stage is not. One can see this play out in the famous Greek tragedy, the Bacchae, written by Euripides. In the play, Greek god Dionysus plans to cruelly punish the town where he was conceived that didn’t recognize him as a god. We can see dramatic irony in the play when Dionysus spitefully encourages the king Pentheus to visit the women of the town that have run to the mountains under Dionysus’ influence. Dionysus dresses Pentheus in women’s clothing as a disguise and lures him to where he will order the women to attack him. All this time, Pentheus does not know Dionysus’ true identity whereas the reader/audience does. Thus, it is dramatic irony.
Tragic irony is complementary with dramatic irony in the Bacchae. Tragic irony is when a character’s previous ideas or words end in the character’s tragic end. We see this when Pentheus’ hate towards Dionysus comes back to haunt him as he is murdered by Dionysus’ followers at the end of the play: “… with unending shrieks, fell Pentheus. For he realized his fatal hour had come.” (Euripides, 1110, 157)
After experiencing the different aspects of irony from the Bacchae, I am not surprised that one of the epigraphs Dr. McCoy offered for our class to use for our first blog post assignment is a quote from author, Percival Everett, about irony.
In this epigraph, Everett looks at irony candidly with an alternative perspective. Even though irony can sometimes be a bad thing, as seen with the gruesome death of Pentheus in the Bacchae, Everett argues that irony is essentially human and that viewing life with an ironic perspective is healthy. He believes that irony is actually quite genuine — even more so than utter sincerity, as it recognizes the imperfections of life. He does emphasize the difference between irony and humor, by stating that irony should never “make light of serious or grave and important issues.” (Everett)
I agree with Everett’s perspective on irony. I believe it is true that the only thing humans can know for certain is that they don’t know anything. Perhaps irony is a way of realizing this absurdity of life and accepting it. In my daily life, I experience irony. I may want to do one thing but I end up doing another. A funny example of this is the story of how I became an education major. Both my parents are teachers. Naturally, I never wanted anything to do with the field of education because I didn’t want to be the girl who does exactly what her parents do. But after realizing my love of helping others, especially children, I knew I had to be an elementary school teacher. Thus, is the irony of life.
I can apply irony to school, in particular, to English 203. Especially with writing, as subjective as it is, one may believe he or she is making one point, but the reader could interpret that same point much differently than intended. I will do my best to clearly illustrate my ideas while keeping in mind another Everett idea, that “it is incredible that a sentence is ever understood.” (Everett, Erasure) It is also ironic that sometimes, when I write, I am more focused on achieving a high final grade than actually progressing my writing skills. I know that this is not a method that will help my personal growth. In this class, I will strive to better my writing abilities to promote further self-growth instead of constantly trying for a perfect grade.
I can tell just by this short epigraph about irony, that Everett is a wise man who doesn’t pretend to know everything, as some “wise” men do. He affirms the importance of irony by explaining that it is not just a tool for humor or a literary device, but an outlook on life. I am looking forward to reading more of this wise man’s works and excited to try pushing new boundaries in the classroom where I will always keep in mind the irony of life.