I is for Irony #AtoZChallenge

A guest post by Leigh M. Lane

While irony has a place in many genres, it is a fundamental element in satire. When properly used, it can enrich and add necessary depth to a work, offering commentary in ways that few other literary elements can present. Irony expounds a premise through that which is not said, but rather implied by exclusion, creating a deconstructionist venue that might show more than simple description might tell. With that in mind, I offer the reader an exposition of irony through a close reading of a couple of choice excerpts from my dramatic satire and dystopia, World-Mart.

World-Mart takes a critical look at corporate America, speculating the direction our country is heading in its promotion of big business and slow but steady quashing of the small but personal “mom and pop” enterprise. In this first excerpt, one of the main characters, Shelley, experiences her first lone shopping venture at the Food-Mart. Over the loud speaker, she observes, “‘Attention Food-Mart customers,’ the voice announced. ‘For today only, the canned meat product booth is having a buy three, get one free sale (limit two free items). And remember, a hard worker is a happy worker. Thank you for shopping at Food-Mart.’ (59). The main irony here is that Food-Mart is the only place where citizens can legally purchase groceries. By calling customers specifically “Food-Mart customers,” the establishment creates a false sense of value in their patronage, while actually mocking their value as consumers. The limit of “two free items” further exemplifies the actual devaluing of the customer.

Consider what follows: “And remember, a hard worker is a happy worker.” By inserting this message, Corporate again imports a false sense of value in the mundane everyman. While their actual role is minimal and disposable, the message to these people is in reality aimed at keeping the little man as complacent, yet efficient, as possible. The final sentence in this passage, “Thank you for shopping at Food-Mart,” is just as condescending. Given that there is no other place to shop, the token of appreciation is actually nothing more than a slap in the consumer’s face, lip service that says just as much about Corporate as it does those it would control.

Later in the story, main character George crosses a Corporate landfill, which includes an airplane graveyard:

George took one last look at the dead mechanical structures at his side, and then continued down the trail. It was strange how familiar, yet so equally foreign, the vehicles were. He never had the opportunity to fly before all of the commercial airlines shut down, but he remembered watching planes cross the sky when he was very young. Sometimes he would wonder if those memories were no more than petty childhood imaginings: spectral flying machines that disappeared from the skies once Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny fell into their rightful ranks of childhood fantasy. With everything he just saw, however, he knew that they all had to be real . . . every single one of them.

Once upon a time.

George wondered if he looked hard enough through the endless piles of trash, perhaps he’d find that God was buried somewhere out there as well. (232)

Here, a juxtaposition of the real and the fantastic offers a glimpse of all that might be lost through current abuses of energy, waste, and power. George remembers airplanes, but only as a child. When he is faced with the airplane graveyard, he must reassess his memories, the phasing out of large, fuel-consuming vehicles that occurred during the time of his realization that fantasies such as Santa Claus do not exist in reality. By comparing both to God, there is the implication that the heart and soul of American economy have died with the death of free market and commerce, that corporate takeover have killed the average American’s dream of better things to come—that the average American’s free choice to believe in something greater than the reality standing before him, both limited and grim.

In the classic “show and tell” of literature, irony shows in ways few others might. It allows the reader to look at a given issue from a creative and open point of view, creating an opening for personal take and interpretation with its implied direction. Irony can be direct or implicit, best analyzed through the deconstructionist point of view, offering greater power to the reader in personal interpretation and analysis. Properly used, irony enables the reader to apply a given reading to his or her personal experience, enriching through implication rather than direct prose, allowing the reader to own the text and interpret it as he or she will.

About the author: Leigh M. Lane lives in the beautiful mountains of Montana. She writes dark speculative fiction that often contains strong social and political commentary. For more about her and her work, check out her website or her Amazon author page.

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