Irony on the Island

The word irony is thought to come from the stock character of Greek drama known as eiron. The eiron in Greek comedy is the self-effacing trickster who always manages to undermine the other stock character, the alazon (imposter or braggart). The eiron pretends simplicity and humility and, by doing do, outwits his opponent.

Modern irony, the conflict between what seems and what is, derives from this clash between appearance and reality. One critic and educator has delineated three categories of irony: dramatic, verbal, and situational.

Lord of the Flies abounds with dramatic irony: that which occurs when a speaker says or does something while being unaware of its ironic contrast with the whole truth. The audience knows the true reality, while the speaker or doer responds to his/her own perception of reality. Dramatic irony requires that certain bits of information be withheld from the character. Consequently, if a character dances across a room singing, “This is the happiest day of my life” and the audience knows that his washing machine has just overflowed, his dog just been hit, his girlfriend walked out on him. . . dramatic irony has been established.
  • At the beginning of the book, Ralph say, “This is a good island.” Based on what you know has happened so far with the boys on the island, why is this ironic (in contrast with the whole truth)?
  • What about at the start of Chapter 2? On page 33, the boys are creating rules: "Jack was on his feet. 'We'll have rules!' he cried excitedly. 'Lots of rules! Then when anyone breaks 'em--'" Based on what you know about Jack so far, why it is ironic that he says this?
  • Now, let’s analyze together one important instance of dramatic irony in our reading of chapter 6: the fall of the dead parachutist onto the mountain one night. Golding calls this “a sign [that] came down from the world of grownups.” (95) Let's reread a few paragraphs:

To understand the irony, let's think about what the boys have been looking for from the world of grownups? What do they think the grownup world will give them? Why is it ironic that this is the “sign” given them? What conflict exists between appearance and reality? How does the cause of the dead parachutist conflict with the values the world of grownups are supposed to symbolize? What element does the presence of the dead parachutist introduce into the novel, and what effect does this have on the boys?

You will see some of these questions again on the Reading Comprehension quiz.

Optional viewing: This video is corny, but gives examples of irony.

Last modified: Thursday, 14 June 2012, 4:19 PM