Irony is a very handy literary tool. We learned about it in grade school when our teachers wanted to demonstrate how authors engaged us in their tales. There was a twist, something unexpected, that surprised or fascinated and of course made us want to keep turning pages. Short story legend O. Henry was a master of irony. Who can ever forget The Gift of the Magi? Impoverished young wife cuts her beautiful hair to buy her beloved husband a chain for his cherished watch. Meanwhile, the besotted young husband has hocked his watch to buy combs for his wife’s lovely long locks!
Teacher: “ Boys and Girls, who can define irony? “
Small, nerdy girl in the front row: (Hey, who said it was me?) “Irony: an incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.”
Hm. Too technical? You’d like a real-life example of irony? Try this. A certain person is scouring the city looking for a new place to put down roots. (Actually, person is having trouble with the concept of giving up her garden.) New place has to feel like home, not a little box in the sky. Has to have some outdoor space. Expansive views, etc. Finally, after inspecting dozens of properties, person hears through a friend of a friend that a unit is coming up for sale in a certain building, and arranges to see it. It’s on the third floor, so when person walks in, she is struck by all the greenery she views through the abundant windows. Person hadn’t realized the third floor is just the right height for a good, eye level view of trees in their horizontal splendour. “Look at this!” person says to spouse. “Two huge, mature pines right outside the terrace! You can actually lean over and touch them!”
Naturally, person purchases the condo. When friends ask her to describe it, she invariably says, “Well, what I liked about it most was the view. Everywhere you look, there are trees. Trees, right outside the terrace. It feels peaceful and serene. Lots of trees…. Yes, the place is a little tired and needs work, but it has great trees!”
Renovation is finally near completion. Person and spouse move in to newly renovated, not quite finished, very dusty but quite lovely condo. The first night they sleep in the new digs is a Thursday. Friday morning, person is anxious to get going on the unpacking and awakens at five. The city outside is asleep. The busy unpacking bee is barely aware of any activity beyond the enclosed space she is trying to put to rights.
But traffic is increasing outside, garbage is being noisily emptied from a bin, and there’s a buzzing sound from somewhere below. An hour or so later, person becomes aware that the buzzing has not stopped. In fact, it is getting louder. Person is startled, that first morning, when she passes by the terrace sliding glass door and sees a workman in one of the pines. “Oh,” she thinks, “they must be pruning before winter sets in.”
She stops to watch. Branches begin to fall to the ground. All at once, the light dawns. The man is not pruning the tree. The man is CUTTING DOWN THE TREE! He’s cutting down MY…..oops….HER TREE! (Of course, it is not my…her… tree. The tree belongs to the condominium corporation.) Person is dumbfounded. Person actually stands stock still with jaw agape as the second tree meets the same fate as the first.
Person’s brain ducks and weaves. How to reconcile this disastrous loss of her ideal mental and visual landscape with reality? Trees are gone. Trees are gone…….!
“Well,” reasons person, “there will be more light on the terrace now. So perhaps can plant some sun-loving instead of shade-loving plants next spring?”
Now, that tale, ladies and gents, is the definition of irony!