Situational Irony - Examples and Definition in Literature (2023)

Definition of Situational Irony

Irony refers to an instance in which one thing appears to be true, but is actually the opposite. This type of contradiction appears often in literature and in many forms. Situational irony, as a literary device, is a form of irony in which something takes place that is different or the opposite of what is expected to happen. When writers create an ironic situation in a literary work, it allows the reader to understand the difference between appearance and reality within the confines of the literature. This experience often leads the reader to a better understanding of the work’s central theme or purpose.

For example, in Dorothy Parker’s poem “Love Song,” the first stanza features situational irony:

My own dear love, he is strong and bold
And he cares not what comes after.
His words ring sweet as a chime of gold,
And his eyes are lit with laughter.
He is jubilant as a flag unfurled—
Oh, a girl, she’d not forget him.
My own dear love, he is all my world,—
And I wish I’d never met him.

Parker utilizes situational irony as a literary device to set up an incongruity between what the reader expects to happen in the poem and what actually does happen. In this case, the poem’s title and the poet’s words of praise and adulation set the reader up to expect that the poem is an expression of the poet’s deep and steadfast love. Instead, the final line of the first stanza presents a situation that is entirely the opposite of what is expected; the poet states that she wishes she had never met the man that she claims as her “own dear love.”

(Video) Situational irony: The opposite of what you think - Christopher Warner

Parker’s effective use of situational irony in her poem enhances its value as entertainment and amusement for the reader. Its incongruity also underscores the theme that love songs and romantic poems are not necessarily realistic or entirely truthful in their portrayal of passion or devotion. Parker utilizes situational irony to convey to the reader that both love and poetry can be contradictory and are not always as they appear.

Common Examples of Situational Irony

Situational irony can happen outside the world of literature as well, as contradictory, unexpected events and unforeseen circumstances take place in everyday life. Here are some common examples of situational irony:

  • a dentist with severe tooth decay
  • a car mechanic that can’t change a tire
  • searching everywhere for your phone when it’s in your hand
  • a librarian with a book overdue
  • a fire station burning down
  • offering to pay for a date and realizing your wallet is at home
  • a skyscraper architect who is afraid of heights
  • arriving at work at the wrong time because you forgot about Daylight Savings Time
  • getting to the grocery store and realizing your shopping list is at home
  • following your GPS directions to a dead end
  • driving through a rain shower right after washing your car
  • sending a deeply apologetic text to a wrong number
  • an ice cream truck driving through neighborhoods during a blizzard
  • a driving instructor running a red light
  • preparing to bake a cake and forgetting to turn on the oven

Famous Examples of Movies and Television Shows with Situational Irony

Movie and television plots often rely on situational irony to create a surprising and unexpected twist at the end or communicate a message to the audience. These effects enhance the audience’s enjoyment of these media forms and present topics and themes for thought both during and after the watching experience. Here are some famous examples of movies and television shows with situational irony:


  • The Wizard of Oz
  • The Sixth Sense
  • Groundhog Day
  • Shrek
  • Parasite
  • Get Out
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Fight Club
  • The Prestige
  • Gone Girl

Television Shows

  • Breaking Bad
  • The Odd Couple
  • Schitt’s Creek
  • Three’s Company
  • The Good Place
  • Barry
  • The Americans
  • South Park
  • The Sopranos
  • Six Feet Under

Examples of Situational Irony in Literature

As a literary device, situational irony, when done properly, is effective in all forms of literature. However, it is especially impactful in literary works of short fiction. In a compressed work of short fiction, a writer’s revelation of situational irony can enhance the theme, meaning, and lasting impression for the reader. In addition, this form of irony, in which the situation ends up to be different from what it appears or what the reader expects is true, allows a writer to create characters and plots that reflect more life-like, surprising, and complex stories.

(Video) What is Situational Irony?

Here are some examples of situational irony in literary works of short fiction:

Example 1:The Story of an Hour(Kate Chopin)

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.
There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and
women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind
intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief
moment of illumination.

In Chopin’s short story, the main character Louise is portrayed as a fragile woman who is afflicted with a “heart condition.” When it’s reported that Louise’s husband has suddenly died, her family and friends are worried that the news and her expected grief will destroy her health and well-being. This passage of the story reveals that, rather than feeling stricken with grief at the news of her husband’s death, Louise actually views the situation with a sense of freedom and re-birth. Her loved ones assume that she is in a state of shock and bereavement, though her true feelings contradict that assumption.

Chopin invites the reader to understand this situational irony by allowing them to be privy to Louise’s honest thoughts and opinions regarding the death of her husband and her newfound freedom as a widow. This enables the reader to have an unexpected and seemingly incongruous “moment of illumination” in the same manner as Louise.

(Video) Irony Simplified | Verbal Irony, Situational Irony, Dramatic Irony | Literary Device

Example 2:The Necklace (Guy de Maupassant)

Her hair badly dressed, her skirts awry, her hands red, she spoke in a loud tone, and washed the floors in large pails of water. But sometimes, when her husband was at the office, she would seat herself before the window and think of that evening party of former times, of that ball where she was so beautiful and so flattered.

In de Maupassant’s short story, the main character, Mathilde Loisel, feels unhappy with her socioeconomic status and her husband’s position in society. When the Loisels are invited to a ball, Mathilde borrows what she believes to be a diamond necklace from her friend. By the end of the ball, the necklace is lost, and Mathilde and her husband spend a decade working to pay the debt of replacing the friend’s necklace. This lowers their economic and social position even further, which represents situational irony in the story.

However, Mathilde’s situation becomes even more ironic as she encounters her friend a decade later and learns that the lost necklace they worked to replace with real diamonds was actually a fake. This reversal of fortune demonstrates further situational irony in the story. In the passage above, de Maupassant reveals to the reader that Mathilde’s story is an ironic inverse of Cinderella. Instead of a good-natured scullery maid attending a ball and becoming a princess, Mathilde’s prideful nature has driven her from being the belle of the ball to an embittered washer woman.

Example 3:The Gift of the Magi (O. Henry)

Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

(Video) Situational Irony: Explanation and Activity

This short story by O. Henry is considered one of the best examples of situational irony in literature. It has been re-told and adapted as an example of giving and sacrifice, especially during the Christmas season. In the story, a young married couple with little money decide to sell what is most precious to themselves in order to purchase something valuable for the other. Della, the wife, sells her long beautiful hair to buy her husband Jim a watch chain. In turn, Jim sells his watch chain to buy Della combs for her hair. Since neither of them any longer possess the items for which their gifts are intended, in the end the gifts are essentially worthless. This creates situational irony in terms of the gift exchange and also the level of their sacrifice for each other.

Though most readers find this story and ironic situation to be heartwarming and symbolic of the true love and sacrifice in gift giving, O. Henry may have intended a different message or interpretation among his audience. In the passage above, the narrator insists several times that the two main characters are the “wisest.” This repeated emphasis of their “wisdom” may be O. Henry’s attempt to convey the opposite and instead demonstrate the couple’s foolishness. Not only have they sold their most precious “belongings,” but the gifts they receive from each other are useless. The fact that readers may find this admirable or endearing, the opposite of the writer’s intention, is also an example of situational irony.

Related posts:

  • Irony
  • Dramatic Irony
  • Verbal Irony
  • 10 Examples of Irony in Shakespeare
  • 15 Irony Examples in Disney Movies
  • 11 Examples of Irony in Children’s Literature
  • 12 Thought Provoking Examples of Irony in History
  • Romeo and Juliet Dramatic Irony
  • Brevity is the Soul of Wit
  • To Thine Own Self Be True
  • Frailty, Thy Name is Woman
  • My Kingdom for a Horse
  • Lady Doth Protest too Much
  • The Quality of Mercy is Not Strain’d
  • Ignorance is Strength

(Video) Situational Irony


What is an example of situational irony in literature? ›

Famous Examples of Situational Irony

Romeo believes Juliet, who is simply drugged, has killed herself, so he kills himself as well. When she wakes and finds him dead beside her, she too takes her own life. It is the opposite of what was supposed to happen, and the two lovers do not get their happily ever after.

What is an example of situational irony with explanation? ›

For example, two friends coming to a party in the same dress is a coincidence. But two friends coming to the party in the same dress after promising not to wear that dress would be situational irony — you'd expect them to come in other clothes, but they did the opposite. It's the last thing you expect.

What is a good sentence for situational irony? ›

A neigboring fire brigade had to come to put out the fire. This is an example of situational irony because the fire brigade's job is to put out fires. They're the last people you would expect to have to deal with a fire in their own home!

What is the situational irony in Cinderella? ›

The prince does not know that she is a poor girl, almost a slave to her stepsisters and stepmother. It is ironic because we know the owner of the shoe is Cinderella, a poor girl, but he thinks it is a girl that comes from great wealth.

What is situational irony in Romeo and Juliet? ›

Situational irony: Romeo attended the ball to see Rosaline, whom he thought himself in love with, only to realize that whatever he felt for Rosaline was not love when he falls for Juliet.

What is an example of situational irony in a movie? ›

Examples of situational irony in action

Here are a few examples: In The Dark Knight, the Joker is big into pointing out the silliness of the world. Batman drives straight past a fire truck on fire in one sight gag. In Monsters Inc., the film's entire premise is based on situational irony.

Which is an example of situational irony quizlet? ›

Situational Irony occurs when actions or events have the opposite result from what is expected or what is intended. Ex. The fire station burns down while the firemen are out on a call.

What is situational irony in literature and movies? ›

Situational irony is a device in storytelling that is deployed when one's expectations of what will happen are overshadowed by what actually occurs. It is the literary equivalent of being yanked out from beneath your feet.

What is an example of situational irony in advertising? ›

This is an example of situational irony in advertising because when you read the line “IKEA wants you to pee on its ad” you wouldn't expect what's coming. But when you watch the ad, you will realize something unexpected was incorporated.

What is an example of a situation? ›

He's in a bad situation. You may find yourself in a situation where you lose control of the vehicle. How is your financial situation? I'm worried about the current political situation.

What is the definition of situational irony quizlet? ›

Situational Irony. The opposite of what you expected happened. An outcome that turns out to be very different from what was expected.

What is situational irony in Anne Frank play? ›

Situational irony occurs when the outcome turns out to be the opposite of what is expected. Anne's older sister, Margot, is the smart, pretty one, yet in the end, Anne is the one who is remembered.

How do you find the situational irony of a story? ›

See if the statement made by the character conflicts with the setting intentionally or unintentionally.
  1. If the character is using a mocking tone, this is verbal irony and indicates sarcasm.
  2. If the character states this seriously without an ironic or sarcastic intent, then this is situational irony.

What is an example of situational irony in Julius Caesar? ›

One example of situational irony is that the group of conspirators, especially Brutus, believe that assassinating Caesar will save Rome from declining into civil war. Brutus believes that if Caesar takes power as king, he will abuse his glory and become a tyrant.

What is situational irony in Othello? ›

Situational irony, which refers to when something unexpected happens, can be seen in the triangle between Cassio, Iago, and Othello; Iago wants Cassio killed, but instead, Othello promotes him. Later, Othello also wants Cassio murdered.

What is situational irony in Romeo and Juliet Act 4? ›

Situational Irony

It occurs when a situation unfolds in an unexpected way. In Act IV, on the day that Juliet is to marry her suitor, Paris, her mother goes to her room to wake her and finds her daughter to be dead (or so she believes, thanks to Friar Laurence's potion).

Is Harry Potter an example of situational irony? ›

Harry lives while the Horcrux dies, bringing Voldemort closer to his greatest fear: mortality. In this way, Harry being a Horcrux is a double case of situational irony. Harry believes he must die to vanquish his enemy, whereas Voldemort thinks he is killing Harry, but he's actually killing himself.

What is situational irony for kids? ›

Situational. This type of irony occurs when what actually happens is the opposite of what is expected or appropriate. Verbal. This type of irony occurs when a character says one thing but really means the opposite.

What is situational irony about the dentist? ›

Situational Irony Definition

Suppose you go to a dentist to get your teeth looked at. But it turns out the dentist is on leave because he is suffering from tooth decay! A dentist having problems with his teeth is an ironic situation.

What is an example of situational irony from Act 3? ›

Situational Irony: John Proctor say that his wife can't lie only for her to come out and lie about why Abigail was dismissed from their service. Williams?"

How many types of situational irony are there? ›

Within this general definition, there are 4 subtypes of situational irony: Cosmic irony. Poetic irony. Structural irony.

What is an example of situational irony in the possibility of evil? ›

This is an example of situational irony because Miss Strangeworth believes that she is ridding the town of evil while in reality she is causing it; the letters that she writes bring evil into the town. This example of situational irony effects readers because it reveals Miss Strangeworth's attitude and character.

What are the 5 examples of irony? ›

The five main types of irony are verbal, dramatic, situational, cosmic and Socratic.

What are 2 examples of irony sentences? ›

In an ironic phrase, one thing is said, while another thing is meant. For example, if it were a cold, rainy gray day, you might say, “What a beautiful day!” Or, alternatively, if you were suffering from a bad bout of food poisoning, you might say, “Wow, I feel great today.”

What is a famous example of irony in literature? ›

In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, we—the audience—know that Juliet is not in fact dead at the end, only drugged to appear in a deep, death-like sleep. But Romeo doesn't know that, so he kills himself. His suicide is terribly ironic because Juliet is, in fact, alive and he killed himself for nothing.

What is an example of situational irony quizlet? ›

Situational Irony occurs when actions or events have the opposite result from what is expected or what is intended. Ex. The fire station burns down while the firemen are out on a call.

What is an example of situational irony in the excerpt? ›

Answer: excerpt from "The Open Window", by Saki, the example of situational irony is “She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible." A situational irony is a literary device.

What is an example of structural irony in literature? ›

A good example would be in Shakespeare's Hamlet where Polonius says to Laertes: “Neither a borrower nor lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

What is an example of situational irony in Frankenstein? ›

The best example of irony in the novel is that Victor, who aims to create life, brings death to his family. Further, Victor, the creature's maker, does not take care of it and leaves. Irony makes Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a valuable piece of literature with a hidden meaning.


1. "What is Irony?": A Literary Guide for English Students and Teachers
(OSU School of Writing, Literature and Film)
2. What is Irony? Exploring Situational, Dramatic, and Verbal Irony
(Teaching Intentionally)
3. Irony Explained — 3 Types of Irony Every Storyteller Should Know (Verbal, Situational, and Dramatic)
4. Irony & Its Purpose (with Examples and Practice)
(Mr. Williams)
5. what is Situational Irony? examples from Literary works & Daily Life| English Lec/ Subject Specialis
(Imran Abbasi-English Lecturer)
6. What is Situational Irony ? |Definition with example and explanation| Urdu / Hindi
(RA Education)


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