Irony of Life Defined and Explained
Irony is a literary device frequently used by witers to indicate the contrariness of human life. It is a matter of common experience that in life we do not get what we expect or desire. We expect one thing and we get its exact opposite. Thus irony of life or circumstance may be defined as a situation which is the exact opposite of what has been expected and desired. Such a situation seems to have been contrived by malignant fate. Hence it is also called irony of Fate. Thus irony of Fate, Circumstances, or Life, lies in the frustration of human aspirations. It implies Fate or the powers that rule on high working against humanity and mocking at its frustration. This irony plays an important part in Hardy’s novels and it is most frequently used by him to create tragic effects. C. Duflln remarks in this connection:
“In life it is the unexpected that happens, in the world of Hardy’s novels it is the undesirable unexpected. His whole novels are built upon the doctrine of the irony of Fate, as commonly understood.”
Irony of Life in “The Mayor of Casterbridge”
Hardy’s characters are all victims of the irony of Fate; everything happens contrary to their wishes and calculations. Like Elizabeth .lane, they all feel that there is no necessary connection between desert and reward, desire and attainment, and endeavour and accomplishment. Elizabeth- jane is a victim of this irony, for, “Continually it happened that what she had desired had not been granted her, and that what had been granted her she had not desired.”
Henchard suffers equally at the hands of this mocking sequence of things. He had contrived for long to make Jane his daughter and teach her to call him her fathet. But the day he succeeds and she agrees to call him, ‘father’, he discovers that she was not his real daughter and finds no pleasure in the achievement of his wishes. He is thus a victim of the irony of life : “The mockciy was, that he should have no sonner taught a girl to claim the shelter of his paternity, than he discovered her to have no kinship with him. Tins ironical sequence of things angered him, like an impish trick from a fellow creature.”
Tess’, a Study in the Irony of Fate
Coming to Tess of the D’urben’illes, we find that this novel also is a “study in the irony of Fate.” In this sorry universe, all arc equal victims of universal harshness, “the harshness of the position towards the temperament, of the means towards the aims of today towards yesterday, of hereafter towards to-day.” Tess herself is the victim of this irony of Fate. She goes to Trantridge to “claim kin” and it is hoped much good would come out of the visit. Their rich relations would befriend them and Tess would marry a gentleman and become a lady. But alas! the result is catastrophic. To the right man she remains just a fleeting impression, while on the very first day of her visit she is marked and coveted by the wrong man :
“In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things, the call seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving.” Nature does not often say “see” to a poor creature at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing : or reply “Here” ! to a body’s cry of ‘Where?’ ……… and, “out of such maladroit delays spring anxieties, disappointments, shocks, catastrophes — and what is called a strange destiny.”
Angel Clare and Alec as Victims
Angel Clare ‘too’ is as much a victim of the nony of fate as Tess. As he himself puts it, he had given up all social ambitions and married much below his rank. He had hoped that he, “would secure rustic innocence as surely as he had secured pink cheeks. But in this also Fate had baulked him. He finds that Tess, whom he had regarded as a “Dewy fresh daughter of nature” etc., was not after all so chaste and fresh. She had a past and was, in short, a different woman from the one he had taken her to be.
Similarly, Alec also, villain though he be, is a victim of the irony of life. He seduced Tess thinking that she was an ordinary peasant girl, like many others whom he had seduced in the past. But to his bewilderment, he finds that she is an uncommon girl, mighty sensitive for a farm hand. The result is he receives his death from the hands of his victim. He had never expected that the affair would have such tragic results. Besides this, later in the story, he secures a marriage licence and hurries to her with the honest intention of marrying her and thus making amends for the wrong that he had done to her. But he finds Tess already married. Such is the mockery of fate!
Irony in “The Return of The Native”
This novel also is a study in the irony of life. Eustacia longs for city life and she marries Clym in the hope that he would take her to Paris where she would be perfectly happy. But soon she finds her husband blind and an humble furze-cutter. Similarly, Clym marries Eustacia in the hope that she would be of great help to him in running his school. But he soon discovers that she pines for city life which he himself has renounced. Their love marriage instead of leading to happiness results in tragedy for all concerned. Similarly, Mrs. Yeobright comes to her son’s cottage to be reconciled to him, but meets her death instead.