12 Ironic Situations for Short Stories
Types of Irony Found in Short Stories
Irony is described as "the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect." (Oxford Dictionary)
For example, when events in a story seem to be arranged by a mischievous or malicious being, and the events end in a way that harms said malevolent individual, the story has irony. These ironic events possess a potent appeal for readers.
While many examples of irony exist, I list 12 types of ironic events below, and each type has the potential for a story.
Type 1: Accidental Harm
Definition: When someone who intends to do something good for someone ends up harming him in some way.
- Miss Meacham had a bakery from which a customer had been buying stale loaves. She thought him to be a poverty-stricken, struggling artist and wanted to help him out. One day when he came for his stale loaf, she secretly cut the crust and put in some butter.
This man had been working on a plan for a new theatre in the city and had finally inked the drawing. He would use breadcrumbs to erase the pencil marks. Miss Meacham ruined his plans and his chances by trying to be kind.
O Henry is the author of "Witches’ Loaves," the story outlined above.
Type 2: A Blessing in Disguise (But for the Wrong Person)
Definition: When a person who wants to harm someone, ends up benefiting him.
- Imagine that a man owns a country house which he is afraid to rent out, fearing weak foundations. An enemy, who is not aware of this, burns the house down. The owner is able to obtain compensation through his fire insurance. The familiar phrase "a blessing in disguise” befits this situation.
As you can see, unhappy endings are not the norm in stories which contain irony.
Type 3: Backfiring Selfishness
Definition: When someone who wants to do something good for himself, does something good for another instead – especially if the beneficiary is an enemy.
- In the “Book of Esther,” we find type 3. The projected reward which Haman, grand vizier of the realm and an uneasy favourite of a capricious caliph, grossly inflates does not come to him, but instead goes to his enemy, Mordecai. The lofty gallows which Haman had erected for the hanging of Mordecai becomes the place of his own execution.
Type 4: Accidental Self-Harm
Definition: When a person who wants to harm another, harms himself instead.
- Type 4 is found in Walter Scott’s “Quentin Durward.” Cardinal La Balue is said to have invented a torture cage in which the victim could neither stand upright, nor lie stretched out. The inventor was himself imprisoned in one for eleven years and was released only during his last illness by Louis XI.
Type 5: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Definition: When a person who behaves correctly does himself a disservice.
- In Stacy Aumonier’s short story, "A Good Action," Mr. Pothecary sets out one morning to do humanitarian acts when, on the bus, he drops some money into a poor woman’s handbag and is suddenly accused of attempting to rob her. Many such frustrating incidents happen to him in the story. By the end of the evening, he decides to do something wicked and lets out the hens from his hated neighbour’s hen roost. In the night, the hen roost is burnt and the hens are saved.
This is an example of two types of irony–type 5 and type 2—working together.
Type 6: Good Things Happen to Bad People
Definition: When a person behaving badly does himself a service.
- A young man in a government ministry wants to impress his girlfriend with his diplomatic status, so he removes some top secret documents from the office safe. That night, the ministry is raided by spies and the authorities assume that the young man somehow knew about the raid and had removed the documents to safeguard them. He is undeservedly congratulated.
Type 7: Having Nothing to Show for It
Definition: When a person makes a great sacrifice, but finds it to be futile.
- In the famous story, "The Gift of the Magi," by the master of irony, O Henry, a poor couple wish to give each other Christmas gifts. The loving wife cuts off her long hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch. The husband sells his watch to buy her tortoiseshell combs for her hair.
Type 8: Some Stones are Too Big to Move
Definition: When a person, having made a great effort, discovers that it is useless.
- In Violet Hunt’s story, "Tales of the Uneasy," a girl pretends to be recklessly decadent in order to please a recklessly decadent man. But her effort is futile because he falls in love with an innocent, simple girl.
Type 9: The Thought Is Better Than Reality
Definition: When a person, having achieved a much-desired object, no longer desires it.
- A hobo decides to get imprisoned to avoid the winter chill. During the day, he does various things that could get him arrested, but they are all in vain. As evening approaches, he comes to a cathedral where organ music is being played. The music stirs in him boyhood ideals and aspirations, so he decides to give up the hobo life for a more constructive and purposeful one. Unfortunately, at that exact moment, a policeman arrests him for loitering.
Type 10: Meaningless Success
Definition: A person who finally gets a much-desired object cannot enjoy it.
- A mountaineer desires the panoramic view from a mountain peak, so she scales it, only to find mist obscuring the view.
Type 11: Blind to Your Own Salvation
Definition: When a person has a much-desired object within reach, but cannot reach it.
- Passengers from a wrecked liner are dying of thirst. Their boat enters a river estuary, but they don’t realise that it is fresh river water that they can drink.
Type 12: Devastating Triviality
Definition: When a person, having overcome major obstacles, is undone by something trivial.
- An explorer, who has braved lions, leopards, swamps, and jungles, succumbs to an infected wasp sting in his back garden.
- Many detective stories follow this type of plot. Imagine that a murderer hoists his victim onto a chandelier to make it appear that she had hanged herself, but he forgets to place a chair beneath it.