The future is unwritten — at least that’s what they say — but the past is very much written. From a historical perspective, we can learn about what was done and whether or not it worked. In storytelling, historical irony gives your characters perspective. It is a very specific type of situational irony so let’s talk about how it can be used effectively.
A Brief Overview
Introducing historical irony
Hindsight is 20/20 and the perspectives we get from looking back provide many options in storytelling. Since we've all been touched by nostalgia at some point in our lives, historical irony becomes a universal idea. We'll get to the examples after this quick historical irony definition.
Historical Irony DEFINITION
What is historical irony?
Historical irony occurs when hindsight provides an ironic perspective on an action or stance made in the past. This type of irony is perfect for a character who ends up in a ironic situation they would never expect. As the name suggests, this could apply to real life as well as fiction.
Historical Irony Example:
- On Macquarie Island, cats were imported to handle the overpopulation of rats and mice. The cats eliminated the rodents...along with several species of birds, becoming the new invasive species.
Let historical irony hit your hero
At the end of The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg finds himself alone, reaching out to someone he once had a connection with — perhaps the only person he ever had a chance connecting to. The metaphor and use of historical irony in this scene is exquisitely executed.
Dive deeper into irony
We've covered the basics of historical irony but there is so much more to learn. If there is a particular form of irony you want to explore further, just follow the navigation below. Each one of these subtypes of irony belongs in every writer's toolkit.