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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Irony


Is today’s youth capable of recognizing irony in literature? Monday’s discussion of Huck Finn has prompted me to move on to another little soapbox subject of mine: underestimating young readers.

Some people find the language and characters in Huck Finn offensive. (Monday, I pointed out that we’re supposed to be offended: it’s about racism.) Others are afraid that students who read this kind of literature will believe that it portrays truth – that they will consider the language acceptable and the characters realistic. In other words, some people think children are not smart enough to understand irony.

I beg to differ. Like many things, it simply needs to be taught. Students can understand irony, and in fact my daughters picked it up on their own watching an episode of Fox’s animated science fiction satirical show, Futurama. Gina’s teacher was a little startled when she spouted off Bender’s definition of irony in class:

The use of words expressing other than their literal intention.

(She tells me she didn’t sing it to her teacher, but both Dread Daughters sing it in the video below.)

The daughters are also fond of citing this example of ironic language from the same episode:

The Robot Devil critiques Fry’s opera: “Your lyrics lack subtlety! You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!”

If my girls can discover (and giggle maniacally over) irony and satire they discover on their own, while watching popular television, then children can be taught to recognize it in literature. If Huck Finn offends, then discuss with the class why it does. If, as some people say, Mark Twain was not able to rise above racial stereotypes even when writing an anti-slavery novel, then that should be discussed too. Was it ingrained prejudice on the part of the author, or was it, too, intentional?

I hate to see today’s youth underestimated. They are smarter than we think and sometimes starved for stimulus.

7 Responses to Irony

  1. salarsenッ says:

    The youth of today are underestimated in many areas. Expect greatness, and you shall receive. That’s my motto.

  2. Haha, your kids are so cute!

    I think Alannis Morrisette’s song Ironic messed irony up for me… I STILL get it mixed up with coincidence thanks to the lyrics of her song!

  3. Linda G. says:

    Ha! Love your girls’ singing definition!

    I think some adults are just more comfortable assuming children “can’t understand” certain things. Maybe the same things they have difficulty grasping themselves?

  4. Lenny Lee* says:

    hi miss dianne! i think kids get stuff lots more than grownup could think. the most best thing for me is talking bout stuff like that and deciding on my own what i could think. hooray for moms thats there to talk and help explain stuff.
    …hugs from lenny

  5. Marva Dasef says:

    Just want to say Brava! to all three of you.

  6. KLM says:

    I, too, remember when Alanis’ song, Isn’t it Ironic? came out, and every time I heard it, I used to say, “NO! No, it isn’t! Rain on your wedding day is unforunate, yes. But not ironic!” I think we’re all still dealing with the damage of Alanis’ misinformation. I wonder if she ever wishes she could rewrite those lyrics?

    I always use the classic Oedipal definition of irony myself: When the result of the action is exactly the opposite of that which was intended.

  7. LOL. Great performance, girls!! Woo-hoo!! Loved that!