What is Situational Irony? Definition, Examples of Situational Irony in Literature

Definition of situation irony? Situational irony is a type of irony where there is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen versus what actually happens in a situation.

What is Situational Irony?

Situational irony occurs when the unexpected happens in the plot. Authors often set up stories in a way where the reader has an expectation of what’s going to happen; however, when a twist occurs and the reality differs from the expectation, this is known as situational irony.

Here are some examples of situational irony:

situational irony definition literatureIn Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, the narrator continually refuses to eat the green eggs and ham because he claims that he doesn’t like them. At the end of the children’s story, he tries the food and because of the original claim, we assume he will be disgusted. However, the opposite occurs, and he loves this new treat.

In O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, Della cuts off her hair to buy Jim a new fob chain for his prized possession, watch. When she presents this gift to him, we expect him to be overwhelmed with joy. Instead, Jim is shocked because he has sold his pocket watch in order to buy her new combs for her long hair. Through these sacrifices, the characters realize that the most important thing is their love for one another.

Situational Irony vs. Dramatic and Verbal Irony

definition of situational irony Situational irony is one of three types of irony: dramatic, verbal, and situational. All three deal with a discrepancy between appearance versus reality. However, verbal and dramatic irony differ in the following ways:

Verbal irony is the discrepancy between what someone says versus their intended meaning:

In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” the murderer, Montresor, often speaks using verbal irony when talking to his victim, Fortunato. He states that he “drink[s] to [his] long life.” However, this is ironic because he is intending on killing him in just a few moments.

Dramatic irony is where there is a discrepancy between what the reader knows versus what the characters know in the story:

In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the readers know that the narrator has just committed a murder and placed the dismembered body under the floorboards; however, the policeman questioning him are unaware of this information.

The Function of Situational Irony

The purpose of situation irony is to create a surprised effect for the reader. Many times we enjoy reading stories where the unexpected occurs. Many times we refer to this as a twist ending.

How Situational irony is Used in Literature

situational irony literary definitionHere are some additional examples of situational irony:

In Neil Simon’s modern drama Lost in Yonkers, the main character, Eddie, must try to mend the broken relationship with his harsh mother after his wife dies in order to secure a home for his sons while he travels for work. His younger, timid sister, Bella, sits quietly as the two seem to be unable to settle their differences. However, the situational irony occurs when the timid Bella stands up to her domineering mother and says the boys will be welcome in their home.

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo declares that while he will go to the Capulet’s ball, he will only attend to look at the fair Rosaline who has denied his declaration of love. The audience expects him to go and mope during this party; however, it is there that he immediately forgets about Rosaline and falls in love with Juliet.


Define situational irony: In summation, situational irony occurs when what is expected in a situation differs from what actually happens.

Final example:

In Nicole Yoon’s Everything, Everything, the protagonist’s mother has diagnosed her with an allergy to the world. This has led to her mother refusing her daughter contact with others outside of their home. Such restriction is challenged when the protagonist falls in love with the boy next door and desires to leave the home. After much research, the protagonist and reader discover that the reality is she is not allergic to the world, but instead, her mother has concocted this diagnosis in order to keep her daughter “safe.” This is situational irony because we expect mothers to tell the truth and protect their children; however, in this situation, her mother was harming her child.