Oh, the Irony of it All by Vicki Doudera

I live in Maine, the land of the lobster.

The famous crustacean is omnipresent, especially this time of year, adorning everything from license plates to dinner plates. Attend any summer party and there is likely to be lobster in some form or fashion — salad, stew, or bisque — and if you host guests from away, they’re liable to eat lobster pretty much non-stop.

Not me.

I live here, in lobster land, and I have a seafood allergy. No chowder, no crepes, no thermidor. No lobster stuffed mushrooms, no lobster linguine.

Ironic, right?

Irony involves a difference or contrast between appearance and reality – that is, a discrepancy between what appears to be true and what really is true. You would think that I, as a Mainer, would chow down on lobster chowder. The reality is that I scan the buffet table and avoid anything with a hint of red.

Irony exposes and underscores a contrast between what is and what seems to be, ought to be, or what one wishes or expects to be. As a device used in literature, irony can be verbal, situational, and dramatic. Characters can say the opposite of what they mean, understating or overstating, or use sarcasm. Someone can condemn a character who we as readers expected them to praise.

Situational irony can be used to expose hypocrisy or injustice. My favorite — dramatic irony — occurs when a character states something that they believe to be true but that the reader knows is not true, or the opposite. For this to work, the reader needs to be “in the know.” Sometimes a second reading is what clues the reader in. Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist is one big irony. Or think of the movie The Sixth Sense, by M.Night Shyamalan. Right at the beginning, the kid says, “I see dead people.” At the end we realize that he was speaking the truth and that the main character, played by Bruce Willis, is indeed dead.

Is irony a device that you enjoy in literature? Can it strengthen a mystery, and if so, how? And what would you do if you lived in Maine and couldn’t eat lobster?

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3 Responses to Oh, the Irony of it All by Vicki Doudera

  1. Pj Schott says:

    Love irony. The Sixth Sense was a great example. Fooled me both times I watched it.

  2. I’m not sure if this is ironic or not, but I understand that, back in Colonial days, lobster was considered “trash fish,” good for nothing except putting it in the garden to make the crops grow better! Those of us who live in Maine but are nowhere near the ocean (and don’t often see lobster on local menus) have always thought it was pretty funny that tourists think so highly of the critters.

  3. MCWriTers says:

    Kaitlyn — good point. It is ironic that lobster is so prized today when it was unfit for gentle folk back in the day.

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