What is Irony in English Literature?

Irony is a figure of speech in which the meaning is different from what was intended. So it is a rhetorical device – a word or phrase that is used in a way to create an effect other than the usual one. Irony, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is: “The use of words or actions that convey a meaning other than the literal one, especially with a wry, knowing, or sarcastic effect.” Irony can be used to create humour. In many cases, the speaker is being sarcastic, but it can also be used in a serious way. 

An example is that of George Orwell’s famous essay, ‘Politics and the English Language‘. In it, he said that “political writing is largely about the language.” He believed that this is because words have such power, especially when used in a subtle or misleading way. 

Irony can be used in prose or poetry. If you are reading a book, you are not getting what the writer meant. This means that the reader is being tricked into thinking something else. This can happen when the author says one thing and means another.

In this case, we are using irony. For example: “I like to sleep with the lights on”, but the author actually likes to sleep with the lights off.  This may also happen when the writer uses a word that means one thing and the reader knows that he or she means something else. For example: “You can’t get blood out of a turnip”. The writer is trying to say that it is impossible to remove blood from a turnip. But the reader knows that the writer means that blood can be removed from a turnip. So it is ironic. 

Examples of Irony Sentences in Literature

  1. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (John Keats)
  2. “When I am dead, my dearest love, remember me.” (William Shakespeare)
  3. “I do not think that you will die for a long time, but if you do, I shall not be sorry.” (E.B. White)
  4. “The sun shone upon the sea, the sky was blue, the birds did sing; there were no clouds in the sky.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
  5. “I have loved thee with a passion more intense than I ever knew until this night.” (Tennyson)
  6. “My heart is like a singing bird, flitting from flower to flower; I hear it in the breeze, I see it in the sunshine.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
  7. “And though the night is now far spent, And twilight wearies me, and the stars are grey, There is one glory yet in the east, One star of the morning yet in the sky.” (William Wordsworth)
  8. “I am not sad. I am only happy, and so you are, too.” (E.B. White)
  9. “I thought I heard the voices of children laughing.” (Edgar Allan Poe)
  10. “I must be cruel only to be kind; I must have my cake and eat it, too.” (Molière)