The irony of ironing
“Can you iron this? We’re late!” She practically threw the dress at me… OK, so if she ends up reading this, you’ll know that I embellish on occasion. We were late. More on why that ends up ironic at the end of the post. Why the orchid photo? She likes orchids. What can I say? Stay tuned.
Happy Halloween! Geek moment. This is technically a love note to my wife wrapped in an English lesson so, English teachers, bear with me while I iron out the details. (I’m punny… just ask my wife.)
What is irony?
Irony can be broken down into two large types: verbal and situational. Verbal Irony is when there is a direct contradiction between the words said and the meaning intended, while situational irony is the disparity between the intention and the result of a specific action. We live in a world full of irony that begs the poetic at times. A few examples from all around us: The bible is the most shoplifted book in America. The father of modern-day traffic safety signs never learned how to drive the car and never directly benefited from his invention. Those are situational. Now for the verbal ironies of life. Irony in the everyday
We have all heard of an old man in an old town who asked entirely too many questions. His name was Socrates. He was a teacher. I’m a teacher. (Needless to say, his teaching days did not include a great retirement plan.) Socratic irony is when you feign ignorance for someone to say what you want them to say. It’s the age-old fascination of humans with playing dumb to confess someone to something which they otherwise wouldn't.
For some husbands out there, this probably doesn’t take much when your wife shows up and asks, “Why is my favorite spatula melted?” You cooked breakfast for the kids… not saying that this happened, or anything, but trust me, saying that space aliens did battle in the kitchen doesn’t go over very well.
From the jungles of savannah to the modern-day courtrooms, we find ourselves bumping into irony. The more you actively observe the ironies, the more fun you can have. Irony as a literary device Writer’s capitalize on the irony of life all the time. They concentrate on translating irony into words either written or performed on a stage. Literary Irony has a different function than naturally occurring situational irony. In literature, irony is almost always expressed in a figurative way. The author pointedly says one thing to mean another, and it’s mostly done for humorous and empathic effect. While William Shakespeare is viewed as one of the English pioneers of dramatic irony, you can find others, such as Moliere from France. Their specialty was stagecraft. Socrates (as mentioned earlier) was from Ancient Greece. Irony is universal. For Shakespeare and Moliere, dramatic irony takes the stage by eliciting different emotions. Moliere created comedic irony in Tartuffe, while Shakespeare created tragic irony in Romeo and Juliet.
Dramatic irony is the easiest of the literary devices to spot. It’s Halloween in a couple of weeks. If you go see a horror movie you will likely view some kind of scene where the audience suspects trouble with a killer and the victim is walking into a room. The audience wants to yell,“Don’t go in that room!” It’s the same literary trick Shakespeare played on the audience in Romeo and Juliet when one young lover drank poison, causing the other to end her life.
In my mystery series for kids, I flip the irony around. The kid who everyone in town thinks is stupid because he won't talk is actually a genius who catches criminals. The first book occurs during Halloween. Check it out! Click the image!
Feel like winning a million dollars? Let's play “The Lottery” “The Lottery” is another such example of irony leaving the wind knocked out of your lungs. It is a masterpiece by Shirley Jackson that is filled up to the brim with symbolic Irony. She sets you up with the implied definition embedded in the title. The reader wonders, “What did I win?”
Not so fast. The story opens in a small village of 300 or so residents as they are preparing for an annual event. It’s a lottery. After a couple of days of preparation in June, the day to draw the lottery arrives. The family patriarchs draw the slip from a box and the family that wins then has to draw slips one for each member. The final “winner” of the lottery is then stoned to death. The irony in this short story catches the reader by complete surprise which makes it all the more morbid. The festivity, the participation by the entire village it’s all for a ritualistic sacrifice of a human. Happy Halloween.
The takeaway from this story is how humans are susceptible to following certain traditions blindly and how things no matter how absurd when done by a mob seem acceptable. Like anything that makes humans face their potential evil, this story was met with an uproar of harsh criticism but over the decades it has cemented itself as a classic.
Exploding bats and human self-importance Another classic example of symbolic irony is found in the short story “My Life as a Bat” by Margaret Atwood. Different than “The Lottery” the symbol of the bat permeates the story instead of just acting as a surprise punchline. This is a story told in the first person by a human who firmly believes that they were a bat in one of their previous lives.
For example, the narrator tells us how absurd they made the bats look in the vampire movies and how humans once tried to use thousands of bats as suicide drones by strapping them with explosives to attack the enemy forces in World War Two. Finally, the narrator expresses less anger at being born a human and hopes that she can convince at least some part of human society to be more compassionate towards nature in general. Bats create a stark rationale for that sentiment. Atwood definitely gets your attention with the symbol.
The tone of the story is one of anger at the general perception of humans toward bats which is symbolic of the (OK English teacher, again, geek alert…) general anthropocentric hubris. By the end of it, the question that keeps ringing in our heads while reading this story is “who made humans the boss of all?” The symbolic irony throughout this story is cementing the question in our heads that maybe we are not as important as we think we are on the planet.
Irony or Ironing in your future- True Love It is evident that irony is as old as human civilization itself and we are not going to run out of it anytime soon. This is a good thing. Like Halloween candy, I like irony. It offers sweet moments for teaching and writing. It is a powerful tool in our arsenal that sharpens our wits and ability to think critically. Make sure you try to get this point across to your students. It can really bolster their writing.
You’ve waited long enough. So why is the title “The irony of ironing”? I’m no Shirley Jackson, but here is the symbolic irony of the title on this blog post.
In the end, 33 years later, it remains massively ironic that my angel of a wife married me in the first place. Our story is “Beauty and the Beast.” Such a gorgeous woman could have found a Prince Charming, and I was far from having a kingdom on my resumé. OK, so I was far from having much in my bank account on my vita. How did it happen that she paid attention? I could iron. Wish I could make that up, but I learned it from my dad. I knew how to iron and she was late. We were late and she blew downstairs and said, “We’re late! Can you iron my dress?” I nodded yes and ironed. So, the irony is that my domestic skills trumped my dashing good looks… take that as you will. I will love her to my dying day. I’ll still iron if she wants. She might be late.
Make sure you look for the irony. Make sure you look for the love and humor in your search.