Looking For An Example of Situational Irony? Here Are 6

Are you looking for an example of situational irony? Learn more about this literary device, and take a look at a few examples from classic literature.

There are numerous types of irony, including dramatic irony, verbal irony, and situational irony. This form of irony takes place when something different happens when compared to what was expected. One of the most common everyday examples of situational irony is a fire station that burns down. Obviously, people expect the fire department to put out fires. Therefore, the fire station burning down is completely unexpected.

Situational irony can also be used as a powerful literary device to communicate certain types of messages. If you are curious about an example of situational irony, take a look at some of the top examples from classic literature. 

1. The Gift of the Magi from O. Henry

Examples of situational irony

Published in 1905, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry has situational irony at its core. In The Gift of the Magi, a poor young couple gives up their most important possessions to buy one another Christmas gifts. She sells her long hair to purchase a chain for her husband, who has a valuable pocketwatch. In contrast, he sells his pocketwatch to buy a beautiful set of combs for his wife’s long hair.

Of course, neither of them can use the gifts they got for each other. Because the husband sold his pocket watch, the chain he got from his wife is no longer useful. Furthermore, because the wife sold her long hair, she is no longer able to use the combs her husband got for her. Given the gifts that the couple purchased for each other, this is the opposite of what people expect to happen in this situation. This type of incongruity in an ironic situation makes this a famous example of situational irony.

The Gift of the Magi
  • Henry O (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 18 Pages - 04/27/2011 (Publication Date) - SMK Books (Publisher)

2. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter book series is one of the most popular series of all time. There are numerous examples of situational irony in this storied collection. For example, Voldemort is closely associated with bringing instant death to those he is associated with; however, Voldemort actually dies after attacking baby Harry. He believes it will secure his immortality, but the opposite takes place. 

Furthermore, throughout the early part of the series, people believe that Professor Snape is evil. In the end, it turns out that he is actually Harry Potter’s protector. These are just a couple of examples of situational irony from classic literature. 

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)
  • Brand New in box. The product ships with all relevant accessories
  • J. K. Rowling (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 07/01/2009 (Publication Date) - Scholastic Inc. (Publisher)

3. The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe

An example of situational irony
The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe, published in 1846, takes place in a carnival in Italy. The story follows a man as he seeks revenge on a friend who he believes has wronged him. Throughout the story, there are several examples of situational irony.

One of the first examples of situational irony in this book can be found in the names of one of the characters. Fortunado’s name means fortunate; however, he is anything but that. He is lured into the catacombs during the story before being buried alive by Montresor, an example of situational irony.

There is another example of situational irony in this story as well. Throughout the story, Fortunado is dressed as a jester. This indicates that he should be getting ready for a fun night. At one point, he even believes that Montresor’s actions are a good joke. Of course, the story turns out to be the exact opposite of a joke, as the night ends badly for Fortunado.

The Cask of Amontillado
  • Poe, Edgar Allan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 26 Pages - 05/05/2015 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

4. The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is a play published in 1953. It tells the story of the Salem witch trials dramatically. The story contains numerous examples of irony, including situational irony. During the story, John Proctor has an affair with a former employee of his, Abigail Williams. Then, Abigail Williams (his mistress) falsely accuses John Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth Proctor, of being possessed by a demon.

As the story unfolds, John is asked to recite the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are supposed to prove his dedication to Christianity. As he recites them, he lists a total of nine. He repeats one to get to ten. Ironically, the one he forgot was adultery. His wife, Elizabeth, reminds him that he is forgetting the commandment against adultery. While this serves as a source of comic relief, it is also an example of situational irony because John somehow forgets the commandment that he has just broken. 

The Crucible
  • Arthur Miller (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 95 Pages - 09/03/1982 (Publication Date) - Dramatists Play Service, Inc. (Publisher)

5. The Pardoner’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Pardoner’s Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer, is one of the famous Canterbury Tales. Published around 1400, it follows The Physician’s Tale and precedes The Shipman’s Tale. After the depressing tale about the physician, the host desires to hear something positive, prompting The Pardoner’s Tale. The Pardoner tells the story of a group of young Flemish individuals who spend their time partying, drinking, and having a ball. After one of the friends passes away, the remaining friends go on an adventure to destroy death.

There is also a prime example of situational irony during the story. The pardoner himself is a hypocritical man. During the story, he states that greed is the root of evil; however, throughout the story, he acts in a greedy manner, which is the exact opposite of what people expect him to do.

During the story, he sells pardons to people, saying that it is the only way they can get into heaven. Instead of giving the money to the church, he keeps it for himself. One of the pardons he cells is to forgive someone for the sin of being materialistic. The pardoner is so materialistic and greedy himself that he steals from the collection basket at the church. Throughout the story, the pardoner consistently preaches against the vices he exhibits.

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6. Everyday Examples of Situational Irony

In addition to numerous examples of situational irony found in literature, you may run into situational irony in your everyday life as well. A few common examples of situational irony include:

  • You may complain that you have to stop at the ATM to get some cash. Then, when you open your wallet to pull out your ATM card, you may realize that you already have cash in your wallet.
  • Someone may post a tweet on Twitter complaining that Twitter is not a good social media platform and should not communicate information.
  • Immediately after you’ve mopped the floor, someone spills a drink.
  • Two people agree to go on a blind date. Then, before they arrive for the date, they realize they already know each other.

Even though the situational irony is a common literary element, you can find it in everyday life. If you keep your eyes open, you might spot a few of these everyday examples of situational irony yourself.

Final Word on Situational Irony

In the end, situational irony is a significant literary device. It takes place when the exact opposite happens when compared to what was expected. There are numerous reasons why someone might use situational irony in their writing. Sometimes, it is crucial to keep the reader on their toes. You don’t want the reader always to predict what will happen next.

In other cases, situational irony is important for communicating an important theme or message to the reader. Sometimes, situational irony is exhibited by a character throughout the story to show a personality trait that someone should avoid.

If there is a lesson for the reader, situational irony can communicate that. Keep your eyes open for situational irony the next time you read. It may deepen your understanding of the text.

Want more? Check our detailed list of irony examples.

FAQs About Situational Irony

Are there any authors who are famous for using situational irony?

Yes, Guy De Maupassant, William Shakespeare, and Kate Chopin are famous for using situational irony. This form of irony is found in Romeo and Juliet. You can also find situational irony in a well-known movie, The Sixth Sense. Another famous example of situational irony is the story of Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles. 

What are three irony examples?

Situational irony occurs when the exact opposite of what was expected to happen takes place. Dramatic irony takes place when the reader knows something that the characters do not. Verbal irony takes place when the literal meaning of what the character says is not actually the accepted meaning of those words. All forms of irony can be used in literature. 

Why does a writer use situational irony?

One of the most common reasons why a writer might use situational irony is to inject some comic relief into the story. Writers also use situational irony to add twists to the story. It helps to hold the attention of the reader and keeps the reader on his or her toes during a thrilling adventure.

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  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.