Irony in Huck Finn

Akshay Upadhyaya

Irony is defined as a situation, or use of words that involve some kind of incongruity or discrepancy. There are three types of irony: verbal, dramatic, and situational. Verbal irony is almost like sarcasm, because in a verbal irony, the opposite of what is said is meant. Dramatic irony is an incongruity or discrepancy between what a character says or thinks and what the reader knows to be true or between what a character perceives and what the author intends the reader to perceive. Situational irony is a situation in which there is an incongruity between appearance and reality, or between expectation and fulfillment, or between the actual situation and what would seem appropriate2. In Huck Finn, all three types of ironies were present.

Dramatic irony was abundant through out the book, but the most dramatic one was when the Grangerfords gave Huck his own slave. Huck told about the easy time his slave had since Huck was not used to people waiting on him. This is dramatic irony because its is an incongruity between what the character perceived and what the author intended the reader to perceive. Huck thought that his slave had an easy time because he was not used to people waiting on him; Twain, however, wanted to reader to see that Huck was not willingly to take advantage of a black man. As a result, the reader could see that Huck had more respect for black people than most white people.

A very perceptive verbal irony was used when Huck was describing the servant life in England to Joanna Wilks. He told her that the English treated servants worse than dogs, and treated them worse than the Americans treated their slaves. This was a verbal irony because Huck was the only one who saw how the slaves were treated worse than dogs in America yet he said that the Americans treated their slaves better than the English did their servants.

An example of a situational irony was when the whole town was upset about the splitting of the slave family. The town lamented over the breakup of the family, but if the family had been sold intact, no one would have cared. The situation was ironic because the town did not care about the selling of the family, as long as it was done “ethically.” This kind of dichotomy is the very heart of ironies.