Irony is one of the most versatile literary devices. Versatile in the way it can be used in any genre and is in most novels even if just in a small way. Irony, which is defined by The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms as “A contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality.” Irony is one of those terms that I struggle to define without an example, but basically irony is when something said has a double meaning or something happens that the characters didn’t expect. One of my favorite novels All the Bright Places is filled with irony.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is about two teens in Indiana who meet in really low points in their lives. Since I don’t want to spoil this spectacular book for anyone who has not read it, I suggest to stop reading here as I will have to go into the plot for the ironies to make sense. Now that you have been warned about this I also feel I need to give a content warning since this book deals with suicidal thoughts and actions, mental health, bullying, and child abuse. At the bottom of this post, I will leave all the resources the author provides for these serious issues.
The two main characters of this book are Violet Markey and Theodore Finch. Violet has just come out of a traumatic car crash after a party in which her sister lost her life. Since then, her life has seemed empty and worthless which leads her to break onto the roof and stand on the edge of the bell tower to jump. It is here that she meets Theodore. Theodore is an outcast at school since he voiced to a friend that he goes through the motions of living for extended periods of time. He refers to this as time asleep and times where he is fully alive awake. After “waking up” after months of being “asleep,” Theodore goes back to school and considers jumping off the belltower. From here out, Theodore does whatever he can to get close to Violet. He requests her for his partner for an assignment about exploring Indiana. He makes it his goal to make her happy again, while he himself questioning “Is today a good day to die?… Is today the day? And if not today–when?” This sad statement is repeated throughout the book and leads to several failed suicide attempts and finally to his death. This can be seen as ironic that he is drowning in his own mental health while trying to get someone off the ledge. I think it is good to note that Theodore is undiagnosed bipolar and deals with social alienation according to Course Hero, where Violet’s suicidal thoughts are temporary, from an event in her life, not a chemical imbalance.
This irony continues throughout the novel where Theodore pushes Violet to move on from her accident and write again. This leads to another ironic moment in the novel. When in Violet’s perspective, she describes scenes in a picturesque way, even making up little stories about all the people they meet on their travels. This is seen as ironic as she says things like “Ten months ago, I would have sat beside them, drinking beer and fitting in, and writing witty commentary in my head: She puts the words out there on purpose, like a lawyer trying to lead a jury. ‘Objection, Miss Monk.’ ‘So sorry. Please disregard’ But it is too late because the jury has heard the words and latched on to them–if he likes her, she must like him in return… But now I stand there, feeling dull and out of place and wondering how I was ever friends with Amanda to begin with.” As you can see, she does exactly what old her would’ve done, but says she can’t.
The next scene is ironic in multiple ways. On the bell tower, Theodore talks Violet down from killing herself, but then shouts “‘Thanks for saving me, Violet. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come along. I guess I would be dead right now.’” This statement leads to many people praising Violet and writing about what a hero she is. This is ironic because she is not the hero everyone thinks she is. It is Theodore that saves her, and even in the end, Violet couldn’t save Theodore. This is originally ironic due to the recognition she gets for saving someone who in reality saved her. It then becomes ironic because, at the end of the day, nothing Violet did or could’ve done could have stopped Theodore from killing himself.
Another way Theodore’s killing himself is ironic is in how he does it. When first talking to Violet, the quote Virginia Woolf’s suicide note to each other. This is ironic because, in the end, both Finch and Woolf kill themselves in the same way. For those who don’t know, “In March of 1941, after three serious breakdowns, Virginia Woolf wrote a note to her husband and walked to a nearby river. She shoved heavy stones into her pocket and dove into the water.” This particular quote is pulled from a scene where Theodore tries to drown himself in his bathtub. This is another allusion which makes it so ironic that he chose this method.
These are only some of the more prevalent ironies in this novel. Hopefully, this better explains irony, and makes you want to read this important novel on mental health. This novel not only sheds light on important topics but is also one of the most well-written books I’ve ever read.
Abuse: Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453