Situational Irony

Oliver Twist

by

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist: Situational Irony 1 key example

Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Unjust Situations:

The novel makes frequent use of situational irony, especially in the first half, as a way of currying sympathy for Oliver and commenting on the unfairness of his circumstances. For example, in Chapter 11, situational irony arises when the magistrate asks Mr. Brownlow if he paid for the book he is holding:

"Dear me, I forgot all about it!" exclaimed the absent old gentleman, innocently.

Mr. Brownlow and Oliver are both before the magistrate because Mr. Brownlow has accused Oliver of stealing his pocket handkerchief. Mr. Brownlow has since been convinced that Oliver is innocent. Now, he realizes that he himself has, in fact, stolen the book he was perusing when the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates made off with the handkerchief and left Oliver to take the fall. This moment functions as situational irony because the plaintiff in the case turns out to be the guilty one—the opposite of what a reasonable person would expect to happen in a magistrate's court. There is humor in the situation, and everyone laughs it off. But this light treatment of Mr. Brownlow's accidental theft also demonstrates that the criminal justice system often ignores the crimes of the wealthy while threatening to gobble up someone like Oliver, regardless of whether or not he's guilty.

Situational irony in the novel often puts the reader in a position to see what privileged characters within the novel cannot. In Chapter 3, for instance, Mr. Bumble makes a tone-deaf comment to Oliver when he fetches him from solitary confinement (punishment for Oliver's infamous request for more food):

"Don’t make your eyes red, Oliver, but eat your food, and be thankful," said Mr Bumble, in a tone of impressive pomposity. "You’re a-going to be made a ’prentice of, Oliver."

Mr. Bumble derives a sense of "pomposity," or self-importance, out of the idea that he is caring for Oliver and arranging for him to have a promising future. But Oliver is locked in what is essentially a jail cell. If Bumble were really looking out for Oliver, wouldn't he have refused to lock him up for simply trying to get enough food? This situational irony invites the reader to critique Mr. Bumble and the Poor Law he is enforcing. Neither Mr. Bumble nor the system he represents understands how to care for a child, but the reader knows better. Situational irony thus appeals to the reader's own sense of intellect and self-importance, turning the reader into a critic of the Poor Laws.

Chapter 11
Explanation and Analysis—Unjust Situations:

The novel makes frequent use of situational irony, especially in the first half, as a way of currying sympathy for Oliver and commenting on the unfairness of his circumstances. For example, in Chapter 11, situational irony arises when the magistrate asks Mr. Brownlow if he paid for the book he is holding:

"Dear me, I forgot all about it!" exclaimed the absent old gentleman, innocently.

Mr. Brownlow and Oliver are both before the magistrate because Mr. Brownlow has accused Oliver of stealing his pocket handkerchief. Mr. Brownlow has since been convinced that Oliver is innocent. Now, he realizes that he himself has, in fact, stolen the book he was perusing when the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates made off with the handkerchief and left Oliver to take the fall. This moment functions as situational irony because the plaintiff in the case turns out to be the guilty one—the opposite of what a reasonable person would expect to happen in a magistrate's court. There is humor in the situation, and everyone laughs it off. But this light treatment of Mr. Brownlow's accidental theft also demonstrates that the criminal justice system often ignores the crimes of the wealthy while threatening to gobble up someone like Oliver, regardless of whether or not he's guilty.

Situational irony in the novel often puts the reader in a position to see what privileged characters within the novel cannot. In Chapter 3, for instance, Mr. Bumble makes a tone-deaf comment to Oliver when he fetches him from solitary confinement (punishment for Oliver's infamous request for more food):

"Don’t make your eyes red, Oliver, but eat your food, and be thankful," said Mr Bumble, in a tone of impressive pomposity. "You’re a-going to be made a ’prentice of, Oliver."

Mr. Bumble derives a sense of "pomposity," or self-importance, out of the idea that he is caring for Oliver and arranging for him to have a promising future. But Oliver is locked in what is essentially a jail cell. If Bumble were really looking out for Oliver, wouldn't he have refused to lock him up for simply trying to get enough food? This situational irony invites the reader to critique Mr. Bumble and the Poor Law he is enforcing. Neither Mr. Bumble nor the system he represents understands how to care for a child, but the reader knows better. Situational irony thus appeals to the reader's own sense of intellect and self-importance, turning the reader into a critic of the Poor Laws.

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