An Analysis of Two Ironic Texts

Maria Amparo-Torrijos

Irony is the thwarting of one’s expectations, the opposite of what a reader might think. This is a powerful writer’s tool because it opens a door to deeper meanings and unexpected truths.

Tensions were excruciatingly high during the Cold War between the US and the USSR. Terrified and on edge, this was a time of fear for many. In 1961, the U.S attempted to invade Cuba and failed miserably in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Cuba turned to the USSR for aid. More than happy to help, they intervened. In 1962, they sent missiles to Cuba that would be aimed at the United States. The US refused to allow this and created a blockade. Furious, the USSR declared the action an act of war. The world was now holding its breath, watching in anticipation as a standoff occurred between the two. A full-on nuclear war was on the verge of breaking out and anxiety was at its peak. Even children at school were taught to practice duck and cover drills in case a nuclear bomb was to ever go off near them. A popular film showed kids how to follow the procedure by demonstrating what to do. People fall to the ground and take cover behind street curbs, desks, and even newspapers. Yet it should be common sense that if one is able to see the bomb go off, there’s going to be danger no matter what anyone does. This drill led people into thinking they could take control of the situation when in reality the idea was completely absurd.

This type of faulty thinking is seen in Julia Alvarez’s short story Snow with protagonist Yolanda, a girl who has recently moved to the U.S during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. She ends up mistakenly confusing snow with radioactive fallout during December in New York. This simply further reveals the profound truth that in times of worry and tension, irrational thinking becomes normal.

Irony can also reveal more about oneself. John Cage is regarded as one of the best avant-garde musicians from the 20th century. He’s widely known for encouraging others that there’s more to music than how it’s made. His performances and pieces proved to many that music isn’t only the notes a composer strings together, but also the noises people hear every day. It all comes down to simply listening. John Cage was different than others in the sense that he found music around him instead of relying on common instruments. Take into consideration the piece Water Walk, where John Cage takes listeners on a  journey as he walks around pouring water into jugs, pushing radios onto the floor, and squishing rubber ducks. He used usual household items that involved water such as a pitcher, or a bathtub to create sounds that are familiar and then put them all together to make art.

Another unique and famous work of his is 4:33. In it, listeners are given exactly four minutes and thirty-three seconds of complete silence. It’s up to those hearing the piece to interpret it. The point is for people to notice how the sounds around them contribute to the experience they are having. Yet ironically, as one is left in quietude, with only themselves to ponder the piece, it is found out that much about themselves is uncovered as well. When 4:33 was shown in a classroom full of middle school students, some were to be seen thinking, many appeared confused, and others looked at one another for assurance that what they were hearing was right. It was during this time of stillness that they realized they were left with only their thoughts, and their thoughts alone. How they reacted to this reflected the type of person they were.

Whether it’s in moments of self-contemplation or in times of anxiety, irony always manages to serve a purpose.